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Four Baptists Still Detained In Azerbaijan

BAKU -- Baptist church officials say four believers detained in northeastern Azerbaijan on October 31 after a police raid on a harvest celebration have still not been released, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Azerbaijani Interior Ministry official Ehsan Zahidov told RFE/RL that Ilqar Mamedov, 40, who was allegedly propagating his religion in his home in the Qusar district, was remanded for five days as the "main protagonist."

Zahidov said he could not confirm the status of the other four men.

The Associated Baptist Press reported that Mamedov and three others -- Zalib Ibrahimov of Baku, Rauf Gurbanov of Sumgait, and Akif Babaev from a nearby village -- were each sentenced to five days in jail.

Other Baptists in Azerbaijan told the Oslo-based religious news service Forum 18 that the authorities were threatening to jail Ibrahimov for 12 years.

Ilya Zenchenko, the head of Azerbaijan's Baptist community, told RFE/RL today there were numerous different religious groups in Qusar and police detain their members to prove how effectively they are fighting "extremism."

"Police and a repressive regime reign in the region," Zenchenko said. '"When a group of people come from Baku and stay in one place more than one hour, police and security officers come and ask what is happening, what is the reason for the gathering."

He said local police intimidated people in an attempt to deter them from criticizing the regime.