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1 May 2019

AZERBAIJAN: Supreme Court rejects conscientious objectors' appeals

Two Jehovah's Witnesses – given one-year suspended prison terms and living under restrictions for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience – failed to overturn their criminal convictions at the Supreme Court in April. Shia Imam Sardar Babayev, jailed for leading Muslim worship after gaining religious education outside Azerbaijan, awaits a European Court of Human Rights decision.

20 December 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Six years already, nearly six months more

Rearrested days before a six year jail term for protesting against a ban on schoolgirls wearing headscarves ended, Telman Shiraliyev was sentenced to an additional nearly six month term. "The trial was short and took place without a lawyer as his family is too poor to afford one," human rights defender Elshan Hasanov told Forum 18.

7 November 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Religious freedom survey, November 2018

Azerbaijan restricts freedom of religion and belief, with interlinked freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. Forum 18's survey analyses violations including prisoners of conscience jailed and tortured for exercising freedom of religion and belief, strict state literature censorship, and regime claims of its "tolerance".

3 October 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Fines, censorship amid state control of Islam

Agsu court fined three Muslims after state religious affairs officials and secret police raided a home religious meeting. A Baku court rejected theologian Elshad Miri's appeal against a state ban on his book on Islam. The government must explain to the European Court of Human Rights why it jailed Sardar Babayev for leading mosque prayers.

18 September 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Second 2018 conscientious objector conviction

On 6 September, a court in western Azerbaijan handed a criminal conviction to a second Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector. Vahid Abilov received a one-year suspended prison term and will be under probation for one year. He is planning to appeal. Three more similar cases might follow.

11 September 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Heavy fines for selling unapproved literature

Samad Alikhanov and Zahir Mirzayev were fined up to five months' average wages for offering religious literature for sale without state permission. The literature was confiscated. On 18 September a Baku court resumes hearing theologian Elshad Miri's suit against the State Committee pre-publication ban on his book on Islam.

29 August 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Conscientious objector's criminal conviction – more to follow?

18-year-old Jehovah's Witness Emil Mehdiyev repeatedly expressed willingness to perform a civilian alternative to compulsory military service. Instead he was given a criminal conviction, a one-year suspended prison term, and will be under probation for one year. Seven similar criminal cases against other young men are with Prosecutor's Offices.

14 May 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Theologian challenges state's book ban

Muslim theologian Elshad Miri is challenging in court the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations decision to ban one of his books on theological grounds. The Committee operates the prior compulsory censorship of all religious materials. A court fined another bookshop owner for selling religious literature without permission.

10 May 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Raids on mosques, jailings, fines

Secret police, police and religious affairs officials raided and closed another "illegal" mosque in Baku, complaining that young people "were involved in religious ceremonies". The secret police are investigating the owner. A Sheki court issued four one-month jailings and fines for protests against a plan to turn a mosque into a museum.

16 February 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Extra prison term for Koran micro-discs

A Court added 10 weeks to prisoner of conscience Taleh Bagirov's 20-year prison term for having micro-discs of the Koran in his cell. The Supreme Court rejected Sardar Babayev's appeal against a three-year prison term for leading mosque prayers while having foreign religious education. Six months after a Court ordered compensation for illegal imprisonment, two Jehovah's Witnesses have received nothing.

13 February 2018

AZERBAIJAN: State's theological review bans book on Islam

The State Committee for Work With Religious Organisations – which implements the state's prior compulsory censorship of all religious literature – banned a book on Islam by Muslim theologian Elshad Miri. An official deemed it "unsuitable for publication" because he disagreed with it theologically.

6 February 2018

AZERBAIJAN: Sufis raided, initial fine, Protestants raided

Sufi Muslim Rashad Abidov was fined in Sheki for hosting a religious meeting raided by police, but managed to overturn the fine on appeal. Police raided Star in the East Pentecostal Church in Gyanja during Sunday worship. Police phoned the schools of children present. Fines might follow.

18 December 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Four state agencies raid religious communities

Alongside police, secret police and State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, a growing role in raids on religious communities and prosecutions seems to be played by Religious Affairs Commissions attached to local administrations. Fines of three months' average wages often follow raids.

15 December 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Fines follow police raids on worship

Azerbaijan continues to raid religious communities meeting without state permission, and large fines are normally then imposed. After one such raid an Aliabad Baptist has been told he must pay a fine of over three months average salary by the end of 2017.

22 August 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Torture unpunished; compensation for imprisonment

Muslim Unity Movement deputy leader Abbas Huseynov was beaten and handcuffed "as if crucified" in Qobustan Prison's punishment cell. Appeals brought "no result". Movement leader Taleh Bagirov was sent to punishment cell for requesting a doctor. A Baku court compensated two Jehovah's Witnesses for their year's imprisonment.

10 July 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Three years' jail for leading prayers

Sardar Babayev was jailed for three years for leading mosque prayers because he was educated abroad, the first known punishment for this "crime". Religion Law amendments now allow state exceptions to the ban. Two acquitted Jehovah's Witnesses, who spent a year in prison, offered no compensation.

6 July 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Fined for home religious meetings, picnic

More than 20 Muslims, fined three months' average wages for a religious meeting in a home in Quba, failed in their appeals. A Baptist Pastor similarly fined will appeal to the Constitutional Court. A Muslim was fined for reading religious books aloud at a picnic.

10 May 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Fined for selling religious books

Kifayat Maharramova was fined four months' average wages in Gyanja in early May for selling religious books and discs without the state permission required to sell religious books or items. Police and State Religion Committee officials often confiscate religious books in raids.

13 March 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Five years' jail for leading worship?

In the first known use of punishments on foreign-educated Muslims for leading worship, Shia Imam Sardar Babayev faces up to five years' imprisonment if convicted. Educated in Iran, he led Friday prayers at a Masalli mosque. Arrested on 22 February, he is in pre-trial detention.

9 February 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Regime jails Muslims, doesn't arrest torturers

Eighteen people accused of association with the Muslim Unity Movement have been given long jail terms on fabricated charges. Other trials are continuing. Despite Azerbaijan's binding international human rights obligations, no officials have been arrested or put on criminal trial for torturing those convicted.

17 January 2017

AZERBAIJAN: Police claim "everything was done well"

Three Jehovah's Witnesses, two Baptists, and a bookseller have each been fined three to four months' average wages. Their "offences" include discussing beliefs, offering religious literature, and meeting for prayer. And an unlicensed mosque has been raided and had allegedly "superstitious" items confiscated.

16 November 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Raids, fines enforce state religious censorship

At least 26 shops and 6 homes raided for religious literature sold or distributed without having undergone compulsory censorship by or in places not licensed by State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. Some individuals already punished. UN Human Rights Committee concerned over religious censorship.

6 October 2016

AZERBAIJAN: 34 fines for "illegal" religious meeting

34 attendees at an "illegal" home meeting for worship on the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses were fined nearly a year's official minimum wage. The leader of a Sunni mosque in Baku forcibly closed in July has failed to overturn his fine.

20 September 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Police, officials close Sunni home mosques

Police, SSS secret police, State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations and local administration officials forcibly closed a home Sunni mosque in Qobustan near Baku, the latest Sunni Mosque closed. The mosque leader is appealing against a large fine for leading an unregistered community.

5 August 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Prisoners tortured, authorities deny torture happened

The trial of 18 Muslims accused of serious violent crimes, which they and human rights defenders deny, began on 3 August. Many encouraged Islam outside state control. They have testified to being tortured, but the authorities have not arrested and tried the officials concerned.

29 July 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Imprisonments, trial and torture of Muslims

The criminal trial of Shia Muslim Elshan Mustafaoglu Mustafayev for treason has begun, and Imam Elchin Qasimov (arrested after protesting against torture) has been tortured during his pre-criminal trial imprisonment. Shia Muslim Inqilab Ehadli remains in prison hospital in Baku in a "poor state".

27 July 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Mosques ordered to close for "repairs"

Two Baku mosques abruptly closed for "repairs". A Quba mosque is restricted to Friday prayers only after an official thought replacing a window was "Salafi activity". Army and police are outside Nardaran's mosques. But the Georgian Orthodox are after a year allowed a priest.

22 June 2016

AZERBAIJAN: One more sentenced prisoner of conscience

Shia Muslim imam and prisoner of conscience Nuhbala Rahimov has been given an 18-month sentence and his mosque taken over, and Taleh Bagirov faces more criminal charges. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Committee Against Torture have condemned the government's record.

2 June 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Fines for religious meetings "correct"?

The judge who upheld a large fine on a Jehovah's Witness for attending a worship meeting rejects the victim's argument that the fine violates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), telling Forum 18 his "decision is correct". Azerbaijan is obliged to implement the ECHR. And in March 2016 a new Administrative Code retaining fines and punishments for exercising freedom of religion and belief came into force.

31 May 2016

AZERBAIJAN: State tells Muslims when to pray

"If we pray according to the calendar we believe is correct, they'll arrest us," one Muslim tells Forum 18 about the Shia-oriented unified calendar the state imposes on all Muslims. Azerbaijan's Georgian Orthodox – after nearly a year – should soon have a resident priest again.

27 April 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Shia Muslim prisoner – one of many – reported close to death

Inqilab Ehadli, one of the dozens of Shia Muslims imprisoned as an alleged supporter of the Muslim Unity Movement, is believed to be close to death in prison hospital in the capital Baku, human rights defender Elshan Hasanov told Forum 18 News Service. Ehadli, who is 58, was already in poor health when arrested in January and transferred to the secret police Investigation Prison. "In his home town of Salyan he had authority. Young people came to him with questions about their faith and Islamic law, even members of the clergy," Hasanov noted. At least 68 supporters of the Movement have been arrested since an armed assault by security forces on the village of Nardaran in November 2015, including its leader Taleh Bagirov and mosque prayer leader Nuhbala Rahimov. Meanwhile, two female Jehovah's Witnesses – freed after 50 weeks' imprisonment, mostly by the secret police - have failed to overturn their criminal convictions on appeal. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found in December 2015 that the two were being punished for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief and called for them freed and compensated. The Working Group is due to visit Azerbaijan in mid-May.

29 January 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Convicted and freed, but no compensation for 50 week imprisonment

Two female Jehovah's Witnesses, Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova, were convicted yesterday (28 January) of offering one religious booklet without the compulsory state permission needed in Azerbaijan to distribute religious literature. Judge Akram Qahramanov of Baku's Pirallahi District Court gave each a large fine, but waived the fines as they had spent nearly a year in prison, a court official told Forum 18 News Service. The two were freed in the courtroom. "The decision completely disregards a United Nations [Working Group on Arbitrary Detention] ruling that directed Azerbaijan to compensate the women for their unjust imprisonment," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. The court official said Judge Qahramanov was hearing another case, and she could not comment on why he had ignored the UN decision that the two women – far from being convicted of any crime – should be compensated. The secret police spokesperson claimed to Forum 18 the case was not within its competence, even though it had led the investigation and held the prisoners of conscience for nearly a year. Many other prisoners of conscience are still being held to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief.

27 January 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Prisoner of conscience tortured – with impunity?

Shia Muslim theologian and prisoner of conscience Taleh Bagirov was subjected to "severe torture" and a broken nose while in detention at the Interior Ministry's Main Directorate for the Struggle with Organised Crime in December 2015. No official at the Main Directorate would explain why Bagirov was tortured, what punishment those responsible will face or how such torture can be prevented. "No-one here gives information," the duty officer told Forum 18 News Service. Rashid Rumzada, head of Azerbaijan's National Preventive Mechanism which is supposed to help prevent torture, told Forum 18 that confidentiality meant he could not discuss individual cases. Shia Muslim cleric Nuhbala Rahimov is in four months' pre-trial detention facing possible criminal trial. The criminal trial of two female Jehovah's Witnesses – one of whom is very ill - is due to resume in a Baku court tomorrow (28 January). And the appeal by five Sunni Muslims against long prison terms is due to resume at Baku Appeal Court on 2 February.

26 January 2016

AZERBAIJAN: Four mosques remain closed, Georgian Orthodox still with no priest

Four mosques in the village of Nardaran near Azerbaijan's capital Baku remain closed as the authorities work to bring them under state control. They can resume worship only if they submit to the state-backed Muslim Board and get registration with the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. They were forcibly closed immediately after the November 2015 armed assault on the village to suppress the Muslim Unity Movement and arrest its leader Taleh Bagirov. The imam of Nardaran's closed Rahima Hanum Mosque is also among those in pre-trial imprisonment. Meanwhile, parishioners of the two Georgian Orthodox parishes which the government allows to exist remain without a priest, seven months after their previous priest was denied re-entry to Azerbaijan. "There is no news for us to be joyful about," a Georgian diplomat familiar with the negotiations told Forum 18 News Service. The State Committee has yet to allow Georgian citizen Fr Petre Khumarashvili to begin serving in Azerbaijan. The regional State Committee representative repeatedly refused to give Forum 18 any date for permission to be given or explain why it has been withheld so far.

20 January 2016

AZERBAIJAN: UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention condemns prisoners of consciences' jailings

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that two female Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience on trial in Azerbaijan, Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova, are being punished for exercising freedom of religion or belief and called for them to be freed and compensated, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The Working Group also condemned the use of conscientious objection to military service as an excuse to detain the two women. A Judge has prevented the Working Group's opinion being attached to the case file, but lawyers are calling for the court to act on the Working Group's opinion. The secret police cell where one was held for 10 months has been described by her as a "cage" with no privacy, where the smell of sewage was "suffocating". Jehovah's Witnesses are concerned for the women's health as their detention "has damaged their health", stating that "the pointless delay in proceedings amount to further mistreatment." The trial is due to resume at 12 noon on 28 January.

18 December 2015

AZERBAIJAN: No Christmas meetings for worship for Georgian Orthodox?

Azerbaijan is still denying entry to Georgian Orthodox priests, denying the Church's only two parishes allowed to exist in the country (in the north-western Gakh Region) the possibility of celebrating the liturgy. "I still don't know who will lead the Christmas liturgy there," Bishop Demetre Kapanadze told Forum 18 News Service. "I hope this will be resolved by then." Also, after nearly 10 months' secret police imprisonment, the criminal trial of two Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience - Irina Zakharchenko (who is 80 per cent disabled) and Valida Jabrayilova - has begun. Azerbaijan has ignored an urgent request from the UN Human Rights Committee for Zakharchenko to be moved to a hospital or house arrest. "As a result of 10 months of detention, Irina is suffering from the effects of malnourishment, extreme sleep deprivation and severe psychological pressure," Jehovah's Witnesses noted. And following the arrest during a violent raid on Nardaran of 14 Shia Muslim prisoners of conscience, the authorities have forcibly closed mosques and obstructed the holding of religious events in the village. Officials have refused to answer Forum 18's questions about Azerbaijan's violations of the freedom of religion or belief of Georgian Orthodox Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims.

16 December 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Repeated fines, repeated jailings of prisoners of conscience

Prisoner of conscience Rashad Niftaliyev was released from prison in Azerbaijan's second city Gyanja on the evening of 14 December, after completing a 25-day sentence for not paying large fines imposed to punish him for taking part in religious meetings. "Although he thinks the fines are unjust, Rashad has been paying in small instalments according to his limited means," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Another Jehovah's Witness short-term prisoner of conscience, 50-year-old Irada Huseynova, was freed on 3 December after being jailed for three days for taking part in a religious meeting. Both had previously been jailed as prisoners of conscience. On 5 December, 10 days after a police assault on Muslims worshipping in Nardaran, President Ilham Aliyev signed into law rushed legal changes to the Religion Law, the Criminal Code, the Administrative Code and the Citizenship Law – as well as a new "Religious Extremism" Law. They further restrict the right to freedom of religion or belief.

9 December 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Women's criminal trial to start after 10 months' imprisonment

The preliminary hearing in the criminal trial of Jehovah's Witnesses Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova is due tomorrow (10 December) under Judge Akbar Qahramanov at Baku's Pirallahi District Court, court officials told Forum 18 News Service. The secret police imprisoned the two women in February for offering religious literature to others without state permission and they face between two and five years' imprisonment each if convicted. The United Nations has asked Azerbaijan for Zakharchenko – who is in deteriorating health – to be immediately transferred from custody to house arrest, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. The cases come amid a massive state crackdown on the Muslim Unity Movement, with its leader Imam Taleh Bagirov and dozens of other Shia Muslims under arrest facing criminal prosecution. Arrested on 7 December was Nuhbala Rahimov, imam of the Rahima Hanum shrine at Nardaran. New legal restrictions have been adopted.

1 December 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Police killings, shooting and mass arrests as Muslims pray

Fourteen Muslim Unity Movement members – including leader former prisoner of conscience and recently tortured Imam Taleh Bagirov – were detained in Nardaran, near Azerbaijan's capital Baku, on 26 November as the authorities raided the village firing weapons freely during prayers. According to officials, at least seven people were killed - five men in the village and two police officers – with others in the village being wounded. The authorities have repeatedly promised to return the bodies of those killed to their families for burial, but have not yet done so. The 14 detained Shia Muslims are now in two-months' pre-trial detention and face criminal charges which carry a life sentence. Muslim Unity Movement members in at least three other places have also been arrested. Etibar Najafov, Chief Adviser on Multiculturalism, Ethnic and Religious Affairs in the Presidential Administration, told Forum 18 that "they've done wrong things – they violated established rules". But he struggled to explain what rules they had broken. Asked if the Muslim Unity Movement had killed or proposed killing anyone, he replied "No". Also, changes to the Religion Law (which have not been published) to further restrict freedom of religion or belief may reach the Milli Mejlis on 4 December.

19 November 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Conscientious objector (again) one of 20 current prisoners of conscience

Kamran Shikhaliyev, a 20-year-old conscientious objector to compulsory military service, is serving a one-year sentence in a military disciplinary unit in Salyan Region south of Azerbaijan's capital Baku. He failed to overturn his conviction – the second on the same charges – at Baku Appeal Court on 12 November, court officials told Forum 18 News Service. He is one of 20 known prisoners of conscience punished by the Azerbaijani authorities for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Of these, 17 have been convicted and are serving prison terms, while three are in pre-trial secret police imprisonment. One of the three, 55-year-old disabled widow Irina Zakharchenko, was transferred to hospital on 26 October. "The many months of imprisonment have taken a serious toll on her health," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.

12 November 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Police torture one Muslim, 10 more short-term prisoners of conscience

Police in Azerbaijan's capital Baku detained and tortured Shia Muslim theologian and former prisoner of conscience Imam Taleh Bagirov, head of the Muslim Unity Movement, when he began to pray in the police station, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Two days later, police elsewhere in Baku imprisoned his deputy Elchin Qasimov (also known as Qasimli), imam of Hazrat Abbas Mosque, and a colleague. Eight Muslims who demonstrated outside the Baku police station where Qasimov was initially held were also arrested. A total of 10 prisoners of conscience, including Qasimov, were given prison terms of up to one month. The torture of Imam Bagirov was just a week before the 11 and 12 November consideration of Azerbaijan's record under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) at the UN Committee Against Torture. And the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations is preparing Religion Law changes banning religious leaders without state approval from leading religious meetings for worship, as well as street religious ceremonies.

28 October 2015

AZERBAIJAN: "Residents wanted to worship. Instead, they came face to face with police truncheons"

Three Sunni Muslims face possible criminal prosecution with punishment of up to three years' imprisonment, one of the three and two others were given prison terms of up to five days and others were fined. The punishments followed a secret police raid on a meeting about religion in a cafe in the Azerbaijani capital on 22 October. The following day Shia Muslims in the second city Gyanja were detained after trying to enter the Friday Mosque for Friday prayers to mark Tasua, the day before the Ashura commemoration. They came "face to face with police truncheons", a letter to the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations complained. The letter complained that the city authorities had ordered closed that day all but one of the city's mosques. But Hasan Mammadov, a consultant on social and political issues at Gyanja City Administration, denied the closure of any mosques. He insisted to Forum 18 News Service that police arrested only those intent on conducting an "illegal" march for which they had not sought permission.

8 October 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Five latest freedom of religion or belief prisoners of conscience

Azerbaijan's latest prisoners of conscience are five Sunni Muslims jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief. They were arrested in court on 7 October after their sentences were passed and have been transferred to a Baku prison, a friend of the five men told Forum 18 News Service. 46-year-old Ismayil Mammadov was jailed for 5 years, 5 months; his brother 45-year-old Zakariyya, with 46-year-old Shahin Hasanov, was jailed for 5 years; 41-year-old Eldeniz Hajiyev was jailed for 4 years, 5 months; and 21-year-old Revan Sabzaliyev was jailed for 1 year, 7 months. Hasanov is the only one of the five prisoners of conscience to be married. Judge Akshin Afandiyev's assistant Seymur (who would not give his last name) confirmed the sentences to Forum 18 today (8 October). He said the written verdicts would be issued today or soon after. The five were arrested after an April 2014 armed police raid on Muslims meeting together to study Islam with the aid of texts by theologian Said Nursi. Their lawyers were prevented from attending the final court hearing. One male Shia Muslim and two female Jehovah's Witness prisoners of conscience are still under investigation in the NSM secret police Investigation Prison for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.

1 October 2015

AZERBAIJAN: "We forbid religious books – but this isn't religious discrimination"

As legal changes are set to make the state religious censorship even tighter, Gunduz Ismayilov, a deputy chair of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations – which enacts the state censorship – says that large-scale distribution of works by Muslim theologian Said Nursi is "not appropriate". He made the assertion in a letter to Ismayil Mammadov, one of five Sunni Muslims facing up to six years' imprisonment in Baku for distributing religious literature. The trial is likely to end on 5 October, the lawyer Asabali Mustafayev told Forum 18 News Service. The State Committee has already banned the import of nine Jehovah's Witness publications in 2015 so far. "We forbid religious books – but this isn't religious discrimination," a junior State Committee official told Forum 18.

29 September 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Fines, deportations, criminal trials to punish meetings for worship and study

Two Turkish citizens arrived in the Azerbaijan capital Baku on 19 September to take part in a meeting of prayer and study ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. That evening police and secret police officers raided the meeting in a home, taking 85 people for questioning and confiscating 3,000 religious books. On 20 September, the two Turks were fined and ordered deported. Five local Sunni Muslims were also fined. Although the court decision had not entered legal force, the Migration Service deported the two Turks on 21 September, their lawyer Asabali Mustafayev complained to Forum 18 News Service. A secret police officer insisted to Forum 18 the meeting had been "illegal", but refused to explain how a meeting for worship in a home could be illegal. Five Jehovah's Witnesses have failed to overturn convictions for meeting for study and worship in a Baku home raided by police in April. And the criminal trial of five Sunni Muslims to punish them for participating in a religious meeting is due to resume for what might be the last session on 5 October. The prosecutor is demanding up to six years' imprisonment for each.

9 September 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Seven months' secret police detention so far, three more added

A court in Azerbaijan's capital Baku ruled that two female Jehovah's Witnesses – imprisoned for seven months already at the secret police Investigation Prison – can now be held for a further three months, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. Ten months is the maximum they can be held in pre-trial detention. The two - 54-year-old Irina Zakharchenko (a disabled widow) and 37-year-old Valida Jabrayilova – face up to five years' imprisonment for offering religious literature to nearby residents. Forum 18 was unable to reach Judge Rauf Ahmadov to find out why he considered further imprisonment necessary. Two of five Sunni Muslims imprisoned for selling uncensored religious literature have lost their appeals, while the third appeal – by Imam Mubariz Qarayev of Baku's Lezgin Mosque – is due to resume on 11 September. And the long-running trial of five further Sunni Muslims for a religious meeting appears to be close to concluding. "You almost never get an acquittal here," those close to the case told Forum 18. "But if they are to be convicted, we hope that at least they get suspended sentences."

8 September 2015

AZERBAIJAN: 11 weeks with no Sunday liturgy

Amil Javadov, head of communications at Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations in the capital Baku, told Forum 18 News Service he "can't say" why the only Georgian Orthodox priest cannot return to serve his community. The Azerbaijani State Border Service denied re-entry to the country to the only Georgian Orthodox priest (and bishop-designate), Georgian citizen Fr Demetre Tetruashvili, on 21 June. For the past 11 Sundays, the communities of its two state registered parishes in the northern Gakh Region have been unable to host the liturgy. "People go into the church and pray individually, but without a priest there is no liturgy, no service," a Georgian Orthodox Christian lamented to Forum 18. Officials had earlier denied permission for the community to invite a second priest, while a third parish was denied registration. The Church has been banned from re-opening all but two of its historic churches closed during the Soviet period.

11 August 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Muslim bookseller's prison sentence "a judicial secret"

Sunni Muslim prisoner of conscience Eyvaz Mammadov was given a nine-month prison term in Azerbaijan's capital Baku for selling religious books and other religious items which have not undergone state censorship. However, the assistant to the Judge who sentenced him described the sentence to Forum 18 News Service as a "judicial secret". Mammadov was the last of five Muslim prisoners of conscience to be jailed on the same charges. Another of the five, Salim Qasimov, failed in his appeal against his six-month prison sentence. Shia Muslim Jeyhun Jafarov has failed to overturn the latest court order that he should be held in pre-trial detention at the NSM secret police Investigation Prison in Baku for a further four months. An NSM secret police officer dismissed Forum 18's question as to whether Jafarov and two female Jehovah's Witnesses also held by the secret police might be subjected to torture. "There is no torture here – there can't be," the official insisted. Azerbaijan has refused to allow publication of a report on an April 2015 visit to this and other prisons by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT). The criminal trial of five Muslim former prisoners of conscience arrested for participating in a meeting to discuss their faith is due to resume in a Baku court on 7 September.

5 August 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Raid, warnings, deportation

A court in Azerbaijan has officially warned 13 Jehovah's Witnesses after they were detained when 10 police raided a meeting in a Baku home to exercise freedom of religion or belief. One Jehovah's Witness – Georgian citizen Goderdzi Kvaratskhelia – was on 6 July ordered to be deported, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 News Service. One week later, a court in Sheki rejected appeals by two Jehovah's Witness sisters against fines of more than three months' average wages for discussing their faith on the street. They escaped criminal prosecution as the New Testament and Jehovah's Witness brochure they had with them had been imported with permission from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. A Baku resident who sold Muslim books without the required State Committee licence has lost his Supreme Court appeal against the fine of 18 months' average wages.

16 July 2015

AZERBAIJAN: Religious freedom survey, July 2015

As increasing numbers of prisoners of conscience are jailed by Azerbaijan, Forum 18 News Service notes that freedom of religion or belief and related human rights such as the freedoms of expression and of assembly remain highly restricted. Among the regime's current prisoners of conscience are 14 Muslims and two Jehovah's Witnesses jailed for exercising freedom of religion or belief. There is also one Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector to compulsory military service in a disciplinary military unit. Other freedom of religion or belief issues documented by Forum 18 are: attempts to counter discussion of human rights violations with outright denials and claims of "inter-religious harmony", "religious tolerance" and similar assertions; officials behaving as if the rule of law places no limitations on their actions; unfair trials lacking due legal process; "legal" restrictions on and punishments for exercising freedom of religion or belief; arbitrary official actions denying fundamental rights to citizens and foreigners; a highly restrictive censorship regime, including pre-publication, bookshop, photocopy shop and postal censorship; an arbitrary compulsory state registration system, designed to make all exercise of freedom of religion or belief dependent on state permission; enforced closures of places people meet for worship, especially Sunni mosques; a ban on praying outside mosques; and severe denials of human rights in the Nakhichevan exclave.

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