|Persecution Type:||Dictatorial Paranoia|
|Leader:||President Ilham Aliyev|
Most of the Christian persecution in Azerbaijan comes from government officials at various levels–ranging from the country’s central government that imposes restrictive legislation to local authorities and police who raid religious meetings, detain believers and confiscate religious materials. No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed.
Another source of persecution comes from the Muslim community (family, friends, local imams, etc.), which opposes evangelism among Muslims. If indigenous people convert to Christianity, they’ll face pressure and occasionally, physical violence from their families, friends and local community to force them to return to their former faith.
The government of Azerbaijan monitors the activities of religious groups closely. While on paper, the country is secular and religion is tolerated. However, churches are subject to excessive surveillance by the government. Russian Orthodox churches experience the least problems from the government because they do not usually attempt to make contact with the Azerbaijani population.
It is the indigenous Christians with a Muslim background who face the most severe persecution both by the state and from family, friends and community. Some converts will be locked up for long periods and be beaten. Local mullahs will preach against them, and they may eventually be expelled from their communities. As a result, converts will do their best to hide their new faith–becoming secret believers.
In January 2018, Azerbaijan’s Constitutional Court in the capital city of Baku informed Baptist Pastor Hamid Shabanov that it would not be considering his appeal against a large fine for meeting for worship without state permission, according to regional news agency Forum 18. He cannot appeal to the higher Supreme Court because his offense was an administrative matter. Shabanov’s trial was conducted in Azeri, a language he does not speak, and he was repeatedly asked to sign documents he could neither read nor understand.
Azerbaijan’s government continues to claim its “tolerance,” but restrictions of freedom of religion and belief, censorship of religious literature and jail sentences for prisoners of conscience are ongoing, Forum 18 reports.
According to Forum 18’s recent survey, the exercise of freedom of religion and belief in the country is impinged by “a complex labyrinth of ‘legal’ restrictions,” while groups acting without state permission are subjected to raids and large fines. Meanwhile, Forum 18 noted that Transparency International, a non-governmental organization based in Berlin, had revealed that some foreign politicians had been bribed to deny human rights violations in Azerbaijan.
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