Baptists in Azerbaijan warned not to meet without state approval

OSLO, Norway (ABP) – Police in Azerbaijan raided a Baptist church in June in the port city of Sumgait, and a judge warned the congregation’s leader that he would be fined for a second offense of meeting for worship without state permission, according to Forum 18, a news service that tracks abuses of religious freedom.

The Sumgait congregation is a member of the Baptist Council of Churches, which refuses to apply for state registration in all the former Soviet states where it operates because they believe applying for state permission to exist would lead to state interference in their internal affairs.

Church leader Pavel Byakov reportedly explained the congregation's rejection of state registration, but the judge refused to accept the defense and issued a verbal warning not to hold unauthorized worship services again.

Police reportedly seized religious literature in the raid interrupting Sunday morning worship on June 12 and has not released the confiscated material.

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