Baptist Book Imports Refused For the Third Time

A Baptist church situated in Baku, Azerbaijan, for the third time, has not been permitted to import Book of Proverbs in Azeri. Three thousand copies of the book are held up in custom. The head of Baptist Union in the city, Ilya Zenchenko told the Keston News Service that the chairman of State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, Rafik Aliev has refused the recent request for the import. Ilya Zenchenko is worried that this incident can be used as a basis to close down the church, for ‘infringement of the law about the reception of religious literature’.

A Baptist church in Baku has not been allowed by customs to import 3000 copies of Book of Proverbs in Azeri.  The chairman of ‘State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations’,  Rafik Aliev has the charge for all the religious literature’s censorship and is responsible for the refusal on 30 October. The Pastor, Ilya Zenchenko, was disappointed by this act and met Aliev to discuss the issue. According to the sources, Aliev accused Zenchenko and the church for violating the law by demanding so many books and said the church is only allowed to get 500 books. When Keston News Service questioned Zenchenko which law Aliev was talking about, he said “It’s his law”.

The church again applied for the retrieval of books, ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ to the State Committee in May and attached a copy of the book with the application. The books were donated and produced by Bible Society of Kazakhstan. In July, church received a reply from Aliev stating once again that it could get 500 copies and the church can send the rest of the copies back. Ilya Zenchenko sent the request again in July and then September but received the same response. It is feared by the Baptist church that the State Committee could close them down, as it did the Azerbaijani-language Love Church. Zenchenko told Keston News, “I’m afraid that the State Committee might use our request as a basis for infringement of the law about the reception of religious literature”.

State Committee’s head of expertise department, Jeyhun Mamedov said that the book had been examined by their department and passed. He continued that he doesn’t get the reason why Aliev wouldn’t allow 3000 copies of the book. In November, Zenchenko asked help from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe but it was useless. “In general, religious literature’s censorship would be a violation of the OSCE Commitments," Branislav Solovic who is the Human Rights Officer at the OSCE told Keston. Despite this, the customs still confiscates the religious literature and the Christian literature from entering Azerbaijan. Recently, they even confiscated Russian copies of a brochure just because it had the word ‘religion’ written on it. The copies were ultimately released to be distributed at a conference. The OSCE officials have declined to discuss the incident with Keston.