A Protestant house church meeting in the city of Gyanja was raided by police on Sunday 28 January. The congregation could now potentially be fined for meeting to worship without registering with the authorities.
One church member told Forum 18: “The invasion came during the service, and officers filmed everyone present with video-cameras and took their personal details, including of children.”
Around 100 believers, including 40 children were at the service. The 45-year-old owner of the house was detained by police and his details were passed on to the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. Police also contacted the schools attended by the children present at the meeting.
Members of the congregation may now face fines, which typically amount to 1,500 Manats, or around $890 – nearly three months’ average wages.
Azerbaijan was once a Christian region, but is now 96% Muslim. The government gives preferential treatment to “traditional” religions, such as Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity. However, other forms of Christianity are actively restricted.
The country’s Religion Law, first introduced after independence in 1992, has been amended multiple times. All churches must register with the government, but registering can be a lengthy and confusing process and is often denied. The frequent changes in the law mean many churches have had to re-register multiple times.