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Azerbaijan

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Barnabas Aid supports a Christian newspaper in Azerbaijan, where Christian literature is heavily controlled

Once a Christian region, Azerbaijan is now 96% Muslim. The government gives preferential treatment to those religions considered “traditional” (Islam, Russian Orthodox Christianity and Judaism), while other forms of Christianity are actively restricted.

The authorities in this post-Soviet state regard religious groups with suspicion, and since independence in 1991 restrictions on Christians have been repeatedly tightened. The country’s Religion Law, first adopted in 1992, has been amended 13 times.

Christian groups that established a presence in the country only after 1991 and those operating without official registration are particularly vulnerable. Their church services are monitored and raided; Christian literature is confiscated; and their members are harassed and imprisoned.

All churches must register with the government, but registering can be a lengthy and confusing process, and applications may be denied or left in limbo. In January 2013, Greater Grace Church in Baku lost its final appeal against a court decision that the church be liquidated for failing to re-register with the government. All religious groups have been required to re-register five times since 1992, providing the government with leverage against those it deems undesirable. Unregistered churches cannot open a bank account or rent property.

Christian literature is heavily controlled and may be subject to censorship or a burdensome approval process. Those caught producing or distributing unapproved literature may be fined up to nine years of the minimum wage or imprisoned for up to five years.

In April 2013, Pastors Zaur Balaev and Hinayat Shabanova successfully appealed against convictions for unregistered religious activity, and the heavy fines they had been given were overturned. But this favourable decision took place against a general backdrop of continuing repression.

An increasing number of Azerbaijanis are nevertheless finding Christ. Many of the new Christians are converts from Islam and can meet with hostility from family, community and authorities. The Christian minority may face discrimination from their neighbours; for example, it may be very difficult for them to find and keep a job.

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christian, persecution, charity, church, persecuted, sookhdeo, Islam

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    • Heavenly Father, we pray for Kim Jung-Wook, a South Korean Christian who has been sentenced to hard labour for life in North Korea for “spying” and attempting to establish house churches in the country. We thank You that although prosecutors demanded the death penalty, this was commuted, but we pray that Jung-Wook will be sustained by You in his imprisonment and cruel treatment and will soon be released. We pray too for the dozens of North Koreans who were detained after Jung-Wook’s arrest in October on suspicion of helping him, and for the families of any who have already been executed. We pray for political change and religious freedom in North Korea, that it may be made legal to be a Christian and to take part in Christian activity. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 23 hours ago

    • Two Christian families in Uzbekistan who meet in a private home to read the Bible and pray together have been repeatedly fined and had property confiscated. Alisher Abdullayev and Veniamin Nemirov were originally fined in 2012 for unregistered religious activity and teaching religion “illegally”. They refused on principle to pay, claiming that they had not violated any laws. But earlier this year bailiffs went to their homes and confiscated a car, a mobile phone and household items. The men and their wives were then fined again, ten times the minimum monthly wage. Officers have also raided one of their meetings, filming and harassing those present and seizing religious literature. Pray that the authorities will stop targeting the families and that they will be left alone to study and pray in peace. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Sep 2014 00:00

    • Leaders imprisoned for up to 60 days and members for up to 45 days; fines, corrective labour or community service: these are the penalties for taking part in religious gatherings in Kazakhstan held without state permission, according to a new criminal code. Those who finance unregistered religious activity will be liable to the same punishments as leaders. In addition, a new Code of Administrative Offences lays down a wide range of penalties for exercising the right to religious freedom. Both codes have been condemned by 119 Kazakh and international human rights groups and individuals. They further tighten controls on religious practice in a context where it is already much restricted. Pray for wisdom and courage for Christians in Kazakhstan as they seek to maintain their worship and witness. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Sep 2014 00:00

    • Give thanks that 55 Christians, almost all church leaders and converts from Islam, received Bible training at a three-day seminar in Kyrgyzstan that was supported by Barnabas Aid. The participants have virtually no access to Biblical training, and so the studies were a great boost to their faith and ministry. Meeting fellow church leaders, who are all dealing with similar issues, such as isolation and persecution from Muslim relatives and local Muslim communities, was also very encouraging to them and gave them the opportunity to build up a Christian support network. Pray that the Lord will continue to speak to them through the Bible passages they studied at the seminar, and that He will bless their ministries. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Sep 2014 00:00

    • Christians and other minorities in Burma (Myanmar) are extremely concerned about a proposed religious conversion bill that will require people to seek permission from the authorities before changing religion. It is part of a package of four bills designed to “protect race and religion” in the Buddhist-majority country. The government says it is intended to prevent forced conversions. The draft says that forcing someone to convert would be punishable by a year in prison, while insulting another religion would be punishable by between one and two years in prison. Similar laws in force in several Indian states are used to threaten legitimate evangelism by Christians and as a pretext by Hindu militants to attack Christians, whom they falsely accuse of forcibly converting people. Pray this bill will not become law in Burma. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Sep 2014 00:00

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