Pastor Hamid Shabanov in Aliabad, Azerbaijan, 2007 (World Watch Monitor)

A Baptist pastor who has led a “house church” in Azerbaijan for 25 years is to challenge his latest “offence”, citing the country’s constitutional rights, reports Forum 18.

Hamid Shabanov, and another church member, Mehman Agamammadov, were each given the minimum fine of 1,500 manats (900 US dollars) for leading worship services without state permission. It followed a police raid on Shabanov’s house in November 2016.

Azerbaijani law bans and imposes punishments for holding religious meetings without state permission, including meetings in homes. The authorities have repeatedly turned down Shabanov’s application to register his congregation.

However, as Ilya Zenchenko, head of Azerbaijan’s Baptist Union, told Forum 18: “All this is a violation of their rights under Article 48 of our Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, and Article 49, which guarantees freedom of assembly.”

Shabanov was found guilty at a hearing in January. He appealed on the grounds that the hearing, held in the Azeri language, had been unfair because the court had not provided a translator. The appeal was turned down and a further challenge was also rejected. His church is now preparing an appeal to the Constitutional Court in the capital, Baku, about the original December 2016 punishment for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief.