AZERBAIJAN: Muslims can't pray at home, says police chief
The policeman responsible for breaking up a Muslim prayer service in a private home, Colonel Chingiz Mamedov, has insisted to Forum 18 News Service that Muslims cannot hold prayer services at home. Asked by Forum 18 why believers of any faith cannot meet in homes for worship, he said that the meeting was in a basement with no running water, and then put the phone down. This is the latest attack on members of the Juma Mosque and its religious freedom activist imam, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, whose mosque was taken over after an attack by police. Colonel Mamedov threatened the home owner where the prayer meeting happened that if the mosque community met there again, "it would be worse for him".
Asked why he, as a state official, was concerned about whether or not the community was abiding by Muslim requirements, Colonel Mamedov then complained that the community's leader, imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev, was conducting "agitation and propaganda against the government" and that the community is not registered with the Justice Ministry (the community was registered in 1993). "His thoughts are anti-government," Mamedov told Forum 18. "I have tapes of his sermons where he speaks out against the authorities. It is my job as a state employee to defend the government."
As Colonel Mamedov insisted that Azerbaijan respects freedom of worship, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, Forum 18 asked why he maintains that believers of any faith cannot meet for worship in private homes. He responded by declaring that the community had been meeting in a basement with no running water. "A cellar is not suitable for religious meetings," he declared. Asked why this was a matter for state officials he put the phone down.
Those detained are members of the Juma (Friday) Mosque in Baku's Old City who had been ousted by police from their place of worship on 30 June (see F18News 7 July 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=357 ). One month later, they appear no nearer to regaining their mosque – which has now been closed for "repairs" – and are still being subjected to pressure.
The community has responded with outrage to what they regard as a "new bout of persecutions" against the community. "It is clear that the believers of Juma Mosque are not allowed to pray even at their homes," community members told Forum 18 from Baku on 30 July.
Community members were meeting in the home of Haji Alekber for prayers led by Ibrahimoglu after a funeral service. The police surrounded the house at about 8 pm while prayers were underway. "When the police began rushing into the premises, the owner of the premises informed them that their actions were illegal and that they had no right to rush into private property without any legal reason," the community told Forum 18. "He explained that the religious service connected with the funeral repast was taking place and the believers were performing the religious rituals without disturbing anyone. However, the police, having pushed the owner of the premises away, rushed inside and without any explanations started arresting all the believers who were there, including Ilgar Ibrahimoglu."
Those detained were taken to the city's 26th police station, where they had their personal details recorded. Colonel Mamedov threatened the home owner that if community members gathered there again, "it would be worse for him".
After human rights activists from the Devamm religious freedom group and the local chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association intervened all were freed at about 10 pm.
"Devamm and IRLA Azerbaijan Chapter consider this situation as the grossest violation of the religious freedom and as the next bout of repressions against Ibrahimoglu and the Juma Mosque religious community," complained a joint statement from the two organisations.
Since the mosque was seized, some community members have been fined. In mid-July a member of the mosque community who continued to support Ibrahimoglu as the imam was sacked from his job at Baku's Interior Ministry hospital (see F18News 22 July 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=369 ).
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22 July 2004
Two weeks after police forcibly occupied Baku's historic Juma Mosque and handed it over to a new imposed leadership, one of the mosque community has been fired from his hospital job for refusing to accept the new leadership. Zeynal A. signed a statement that he was voluntarily resigning as "he was threatened that if he did not sign he would face more serious problems and he now fears further persecution," Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, the imam removed by the authorities, told Forum 18 News Service. The authorities have long disliked imam Ibrahimoglu for his defence of the religious freedom of both Christians and Muslims. In a related move yesterday (21 July), the Supreme Court upheld the stripping of registration from a charity run by Ibrahimoglu, Islam-Ittihad. The head of the Baptist Union in Azerbaijan, Ilya Zenchenko, said that for the past three years the Justice Ministry has refused to register human rights organisations and expressed his support for the Juma Mosque community. "All who sincerely follow God in Azerbaijan are persecuted," he told Forum 18.
7 July 2004
In the wake of the police swoop on the Juma mosque in Baku's Old City on 30 June, 27 community members were detained and most were fined before being freed, mosque imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev told Forum 18 News Service on 7 July. He said four had been beaten in detention. He was particularly offended by the detention and interrogation on 5 July of eleven women, who were then fined. "It is an insult to arrest Muslim women," he complained. The community is still being denied access to the mosque. "We have been deprived of the right to meet collectively in God's house." Baptist pastor Ilya Zenchenko and Adventist pastor Yahya Zavrichko offered their support to the community. "The seizure of the mosque was unjust and a violation of their rights," Zenchenko told Forum 18.
5 July 2004
Police forcibly interrupted the prayers of imam Adil Huseinov - a colleague of Juma mosque imam and religious freedom activist Ilgar Ibrahimoglu - and three other Muslims, and detained all four overnight. Muslims consider it to be sacrilegious to interrupt prayers, but the start of prayers was the signal for the police to move in. The police also acted offensively in failing to remove their boots and weapons before entering the mosque, as Islam requires. Imam Ibrahimoglu told Forum 18 News Service that all four were beaten, threatened and insulted before being released this morning. However police then seized five other community members arriving for prayers this morning (5 July) and are still holding them.