6 October 2004
Despite a constitutional right to do alternative service and Azerbaijan's commitment to the Council of Europe to introduce a law regulating such alternative service (for which the deadline has long expired), Jehovah's Witness Mahir Bagirov has so far failed to secure this right in two court hearings. "I'm a Jehovah's Witness, and my religious convictions would be violated if I was forced to bear arms," he told Forum 18. He has now lodged an appeal against the denial of his rights to the Supreme Court, but fears he could be seized and sent to a military unit at any time. A man who said he was from the police telephoned Bagirov's mother on 3 October threatening that her son would be imprisoned.
27 September 2004
Masis Mailyan, deputy foreign minister of the unrecognised enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, has insisted to Forum 18 News Service that, despite the latest police raid on a Baptist congregation, the enclave follows the commitments contained in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, telling Forum 18 that "there are no restrictions on believers and all confessions are equal." However he contradicted himself by stating, contrary to Article 18, that, under the martial law that has operated since 1992, only registered organisations can exist and that Baptists "cannot hold services." Mailyan denied that only the Armenian Apostolic Church is allowed to function, but admitted that it is the only registered religious community. Other local Protestants have told Forum 18 that pressure on their work has eased in recent years and their congregations can function quietly, so it is unclear why the Baptists have been singled out for the authorities' continuing hostility.
16 September 2004
Forum 18 News Service has been unable to discover from the Azerbaijani authorities why on 12 September border guards at Baku airport prevented religious freedom activist and imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev from travelling to Brussels to take part in an OSCE conference on racism and discrimination. Ibrahimoglu told Forum 18 he was not allowed to board his Lufthansa flight despite having checked in and passed through customs. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not have any information on this issue," the ministry's chief spokesperson Metin Mirza told Forum 18. "The ban imposed upon me to visit the OSCE conference is the latest arbitrary action against me," Ibrahimoglu complained.
9 September 2004
Ahead of the OSCE Conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination on 13-14 September 2004 in Brussels, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org surveys some of the more serious discriminatory actions against religious believers that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration. Forum 18 believes most of the serious problems affecting religious believers in the eastern half of the OSCE region come from government discrimination.
12 August 2004
On 11 August, the same day that the Supreme Court rejected the appeal by Baku's Juma Mosque community to overturn last March's eviction order, a court sentenced community member Azad Narimanoglu Isayev to seven days' detention for "resisting the police". The community's imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev told Forum 18 News Service that 83 mosque members have now been summoned to the police under various pretexts since the community was forcibly evicted from the mosque on 30 June. Human rights activist Saadat Bananyarli condemned the Supreme Court verdict. "The verdict is not legitimate because the judges are not independent," she told Forum 18.
2 August 2004
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".
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.
2 July 2004
AZERBAIJAN: Juma mosque stolen by police, community refused access for worship, and new imam imposed
Following Wednesday's police attack on Baku's Juma mosque community and its religious freedom activist imam, in which an attempt to impose a new imam failed, Forum 18 News Service has ascertained that the police have now seized control of the 1,000 year old mosque, imposed a new imam against the will of Muslims who worship there, and are refusing to allow the existing mosque community to use their own mosque for prayers and other religious activities. The mosque community has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, following previous attacks on their religious freedom by the authorities.
30 June 2004
Police today have twice forcibly expelled Muslims from a 1,000 year old Baku mosque that the authorities want to turn into a carpet museum, and tried to impose a new Imam on the community. However, community members were allowed back into the mosque for afternoon prayers, before being expelled again. The police attack was observed by Ambassador Steinar Gil of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, as well as diplomats from the British and US embassies, as well as the OSCE. Ambassador Gil told Forum 18 that the Muslims "behaved very calmly and with restraint, doing nothing to provoke further violence", and other witnesses told Forum 18 News Service that the police beat some community members up. The authorities' attempt to impose their own imam on the mosque community failed. The current imam, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, is strongly disliked by the authorities for his religious freedom and human rights campaigning for Christians and Muslims.
10 June 2004
Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan – which threatens to spread in Central Asia and elsewhere - is largely the result of government repression and lack of democracy, Azerbaijani scholar and translator of the Koran Nariman Gasimoglu, head of the Center for Religion and Democracy http://addm.az.iatp.net/ana.html in Baku and a former Georgetown University (USA) visiting scholar, argues in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. Extremist Islamist groups, like the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party, which do not yet enjoy widespread support, have been strengthened by repression while moderate Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses have suffered. The best, if not the only way to counter religious extremism, Gasimoglu maintains, is to open up society to religious freedom for all, democracy, and free discussion – even including Islamist groups. This is the only way, he argues, of depriving Islamic extremism of support by revealing the reality of what extremism in power would mean.