District court in Zakatala, northern Azerbaijan (courts.gov.az)

A Baptist church leader has agreed to part pay his state fine for holding a worship meeting despite disagreeing with the court’s decision, reports regional news agency Forum 18.

In December, officials demanded that Mehman Agamammadov, who helps lead a church in Aliabad, a village in the Zakatala district of northern Azerbaijan, pay his fine before the end of the year – he has so far managed to pay one third. The fine, equivalent to three months’ salary (about US$890), dates back to a court decision following a raid on his church in November 2016.

Agamammadov has continued to protest that he does not believe he should be penalised for meeting with others for worship, and because the court has never handed him its decision about the penalty in writing, despite his requests, the agency said.

Hamid Shabanov, a Baptist pastor fined with Agamammadov following the same raid in 2016, has refused to pay and is challenging the court’s decision. In October World Watch Monitor reported on his unfair treatment by the authorities during his appeal, which included hearings being held in the Azeri language which Shabanov does not speak.

Aliabad Baptist church has been trying to gain state registration since 1994, but like many other religious communities has faced repeated official obstruction, according to Forum 18.