Azerbaijan pastor fined for leading house group in 'illegal' trial

An Azerbaijani pastor fined for leading a house church without state permission has faced 'multiple violations of law and process', according to a source cited by World Watch Monitor.

World Watch MonitorHamid Shabanov has been fined for leading an unregistered house group.

Hamid Shabanov and another church member, Mehman Agamammadov, were ordered to pay a fine equating to $900 after a police raid on Shabanov's house in Aliabad. Several appeals were rejected. However, the source said the hearings had been held in the Azeri language though Shabanov speaks Georgian, and the court did not provide a translator.

The source said Shabanov had been 'asked repeatedly to sign documents he could neither read nor understand, both in the appeals process and police investigations, including a document that waived his rights. This is both illegal and negligent of the legal process in Azerbaijan.'

While the country technically has freedom of religion, in practice authorities can make it difficult for congregations to register with the authorities as required by law. Many house churches choose to worship underground to avoid onerous registration requirements.

Azerbaijan was ranked number 34 on Open Doors' 2016 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian. According to Open Doors: 'The government has a negative attitude towards any form of religious fanaticism. This also applies to the attitude towards Christians. Official checks are becoming increasingly strict. The government has become more active in controlling religion.'