Washington, D.C. (BWA) — Hamid Shabanov, a Baptist pastor in Azerbaijan who was arrested on June 20, faces trial today. He is charged for the illegal possession of a weapon.
Shabanov is the second Baptist pastor in the town of Aliabad to be arrested in recent times. Zaur Balaev was arrested in May 2007 and given a two year sentence in August of that year. He was released in March of this year after the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the European Baptist Federation, and former United States President Jimmy Carter protested his arrest and conviction on what were regarded as trumped up charges.
Azerbaijan authorities have been accused of committing serious procedural violations in their case against Shabanov. Family and townspeople in Aliabad insist that the weapon that Shabanov allegedly possessed was planted by the police.
It is further alleged that Shabanov’s “detention is illegal as the court-ordered deadline holding him ran out on 21 October,” according to Forum 18, a religious freedom watchdog group based in Oslo, Norway. After his arrest in June, the trial against Shabanov began on July 22, but the case was referred back to the prosecutor by the judge on July 29 for further investigation. Another hearing was called on August 22 without the knowledge of Shabanov, his lawyer, or family. This hearing extended his detention by a further two months which ended on October 21.
The trial was scheduled to begin on October 28, but despite his lawyer traveling 450 kilometers (280 miles) from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, the trial did not begin as the police failed to take Shabanov from jail to the court.
In addition, neither the pastor’s family nor lawyer has received the indictment. “They haven’t even given us the case materials,” Shabanov’s lawyer said.
Elnur Jabiyev, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Azerbaijan, informed the BWA, “It is very interesting that until today there is no document about the test on fingerprints taken from the weapon. Our efforts and the efforts of our advocate bring no fruits.”
BWA General Secretary Neville Callam wrote a letter of protest to the president of Azerbaijan, requesting that the allegations against Shabanov be investigated, and reminding the country’s leader that “the Azerbaijan constitution holds the country to the highest standards in the protection of human rights and religious freedom.”
Jabiyev told the BWA that if found guilty, Shabanov faces a three to five year prison sentence, but stated that “we know that we have our Father, who gave his Son for us, and only He can do a miracle.”