AZERBAIJAN: Pressure mounts on imprisoned imam's supporters
Members of a committee to defend imprisoned religious freedom activist and imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu have come under threat of arrest, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Two committee members have been summoned to local police stations tomorrow (10 December), where they fear that, just like Ibrahimoglu, they will be arrested. Another committee meber held by police was told that "if his name was published abroad it would be bad for him and his family." Ilya Zenchenko, head of the Baptist Church, has told Forum 18 of Baptist's indignation at Imam Ibrahimoglu's arrest and the value they place on his work. Forum 18 has also learnt that another prisoner, prominent opposition leader Rauf Arifoglu, has been denied access to the Koran, prison guards forcibly confiscating a copy. Reliable sources have told Forum 18 that Azer Ramizoglu, leader of the 'Devamm' religious freedom society, is in hiding from the authorities, who are trying to arrest him.
Committee members maintain that the authorities have found nothing to use against Ibrahimoglu, and so are hoping to fabricate evidence of terrorism against him by extracting confessions from his associates. "They allege he kept weapons at the Juma mosque, but this is all lies," Allahverdiev insisted. "In fact they are worried that he is fighting for religious freedom, for Baptists to be able to import books and for Muslim women to wear the hijab [headscarf]."
The Baptist Church has leapt to Ibrahimoglu's defence. "We are indignant about his arrest," Ilya Zenchenko, head of the Baptist Union, told Forum 18 from Baku on 10 December. "We believe the actions against him were not legal. There is no proof." He said the Baptists intend to do all they can to prevent such actions in future. Zenchenko praised Ibrahimoglu for the moral support he had given them and help in resolving problems with the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, the government agency that controls religious activity in Azerbaijan. "His work for religious freedom and human rights has been a great support." He said he had wanted to visit Ibrahimoglu in prison the previous day, but that the imam's supporters had told him that access to Ibrahimoglu has been barred to everyone except his lawyer.
Committee members accuse the authorities of wanting to crush the group, founded on 4 December, the day after Ibrahimoglu was ordered by a Baku court into three months' pre-trial detention (see F18News 4 December 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=203 ). "They say we are conducting anti-state activity."
Ibrahimoglu, an imam at the Juma mosque in Baku's old city and a board member of the Islam-Ittihad Society, is also a religious freedom defender. He is leading coordinator of Devamm (Centre for the Protection of Freedom of Conscience and Religion) and Secretary General of the Azerbaijani Chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA).
Allahverdiev told Forum 18 that the committee is preparing a protest against the imprisonment of Ibrahimoglu for 10 December, international human rights day. He said they will tape over their mouths and chain up their hands to symbolise the denial of freedom.
The written summons to Rashidov and Allahverdiev came after police officers visited several committee members at their homes on 4 and 5 December and pressured them to come to the police station. On the advice of their lawyer, Rashidov and fellow-committee member Shahin Hasanov refused to go without a written summons, despite repeated police visits. They stayed away from their homes to avoid being detained. Among others summoned has been Reshat Valiev. Allahverdiev complained that the police have pressured the relatives of committee members.
The Baku office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says it has been monitoring the growing pressure on Ibrahimoglu's supporters. "We know that some of Ibrahimoglu's colleagues have been summoned to the police," human dimension officer Branislav Solovic told Forum 18 from Baku on 9 December. "The OSCE office is following the situation."
Ibrahimoglu is one of more than one hundred opposition supporters detained in Baku's Bailov investigation prison in the wake of the rigged 15 October presidential election. Ibrahimoglu was a vocal supporter of the Musavat (Equality) party's candidate, Isa Gambar. Many of the prisoners began a hunger strike on 1 December to protest against their continued detention. Solovic said OSCE officials have visited the prison to talk to the prisoners.
One of the most prominent prisoners is Rauf Arifoglu, Musavat's deputy leader and a devout Muslim. Since his arrest on 27 October, he has been denied access to the Koran. "Two days after his arrest, and at his request, I took him a copy of the Koran," Arifoglu's lawyer, Samad Panahov, told Forum 18 from Baku on 9 December. "Prison guards immediately took it away from him by force." When Panahov tried to take him another copy later, this too was confiscated by guards before he could give it to Arifoglu. Panahov said there is nothing in law preventing Arifoglu having the Koran and officials know the law. "But they still violate it." He said denying him access to the Koran was in effect preventing him from praying.
It remains unclear whether Ibrahimoglu has access to the Koran. "I think he is OK in prison," his lawyer Elton Kuliev told Forum 18 from Baku on 9 December. He said he had not seen his client since he was taken to Bailov prison on 6 December, but that he intended to visit on 10 December.
Meanwhile, sources in Baku have told Forum 18 that Azer Ramizoglu, leader of Devamm and chairman of the Islam-Ittihad Society, remains at liberty, but has gone into hiding to avoid arrest. The authorities tried to seize him together with Ibrahimoglu when they raided the Juma mosque on 17 October during Friday prayers (see F18News 22 October 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=168 ).
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4 December 2003
Though authorities claimed that Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, a Muslim religious freedom activist, did not face criminal charges, he has been, after a rigged trial, jailed for three months before a possible trial, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. State authorities are investigating him for organising demonstrations after the rigged election, although the court was "given proof that Ibrahimoglu had not taken part in any public disorder and clashes with the police," a spokesman for religious rights group Devamm told Forum 18. "All he did was monitor the post-election situation." Ibrahimoglu is being held along with more than 100 opposition activists detained after street protests against the way the presidential poll was conducted, nad he has in the past helped end the ban on female Muslim teachers and students wearing headscarves, helped several Protestant churches to gain registration, and had helped the Baptist Church to extract a shipment of books that had been held up in customs.
2 December 2003
A leading Muslim religious freedom activist, who in October found it necessary to seek temporary refuge in the Royal Norwegian Embassy, was yesterday (1 December 2003) detained. Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, of the Juma mosque in Baku, was originally summoned by the authorities as an alleged witness in a criminal case. "There is no indication what that case was about and who was allegedly involved," a spokesman for religious freedom group Devamm told Forum 18. After 8 hours of questioning, the Imam was detained and is now being held in a police isolation cell before a court hearing within 48 hours to decide whether he is to be charged with a criminal offence or released. Ilgar Ibrahimoglu is also Secretary General of the Azerbaijani Chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association.
20 November 2003
Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses have told Forum 18 News Service that importing religious literature can be difficult and expensive, or even impossible, due both to obstruction from the Orthodox Patriarchate and also to corruption among officials. There is repeatedly said to be an unpublished instruction to Customs officials from Patriarch Ilya banning the religious literature imports without his permission. Giorgi Andriadze of the Patriarchate told Forum 18 that the Patriarchate only objects to large quantities of non-Orthodox literature being imported. "It's a question of proselytism. If groups bring in millions of books, that means they intend to proselytise. If they bring in enough for their own followers, it's their right." The Armenian Apostolic and Jewish communities have not had any problems with literature importation.