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Christians arrested

The three Baptists - Timofei Aparshev, Nadezhda Ryzhkova and Stepanida Sheludyakova - are all members of the Council of Churches Baptist congregation in the port of Sumgait [Sumqayit]. Council of Churches congregations refuse on principle to seek state registration in any of the former Soviet republics where they operate.

After a conversation with a group of people and distribution of literature, one young man came up to them and asked them to give what they were giving. He then immediately approached the police. The three Baptists were taken to the police station where they were asked the same questions separately. Among those questioning them was Khachmaz Deputy Police Chief Misir Imamaliyev.

After they refused to write a statement, the Representative for Northern Azerbaijan of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, Eynulla Nurullayev, arrived and began to question each of them separately. He threatened to file criminal charges under Article 167-2, Part 1 ("Production, sale and distribution of religious literature, religious items and other informational materials of religious nature with the aim of import, sale and distribution without appropriate authorisation"). Part 1 punishes first time "offenders" acting alone.

Punishments are a fine of 5,000 Manats (38,627 Norwegian Kroner, 5,127 Euros, or 6,369 US Dollars) to 7,000 Manats (54,052 Norwegian Kroner, 7,175 Euros, or 8,916 US Dollars), or up to two years' imprisonment. The minimum monthly wage has been 93.50 Manats (685 Norwegian Kroner, 90 Euros, or 119 US Dollars) from 1 December 2011.

At 11 pm on 23 June the three Baptists were taken to the head of the Criminal Investigation Department, who treated them "especially crudely". Police confiscated their passports "so as not to allow them to flee to Russia" according to police. All three are Azerbaijani citizens. They were released from the police station at 1 am on 24 June.

Currently, police say they are collecting materials to institute criminal proceedings, and the case has been transferred to Sumgait Police. The three are expecting to be summoned there for further questioning, church members told Forum 18.


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