AZERBAIJAN: Imam still imprisoned despite no investigation
In an apparent attempt to divert attention from the imprisonment of religious freedom activist Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that the Azeri authorities have dropped their investigation into the alleged charges against him - whilst still keeping him in prison. "It's like under the Bolsheviks – they arrested people but then left them to languish in prison with no investigation of their case," one human rights activist told Forum 18. Imam Ibrahimoglu is one of 123 people held in a crackdown after the Azeri presidential elections in October 2003, which were widely condemned as fraudulent by independent election observers.
Ibrahimoglu is being held in cell 130, a three-man cell in the Bayil investigation prison in the block that previously held death-row prisoners. He has been allowed access to his lawyer and has also been visited by several diplomats from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and foreign embassies. "At first he was not allowed to pray in prison, but now he can and he is able to teach his fellow-prisoners about human rights," Najaf Allahverdiev reported.
Forum 18 was unable to reach the investigator at the general procuracy's department for especially serious crimes, Agakhan Akhadov, who is handling Ibrahimoglu's case, to find out what progress has been made in the investigation. His telephone went unanswered on 8 January. Nigar Mamedova, assistant to Rafik Aliev, head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, declined to comment on Ibrahimoglu's case. "I don't have any information about it," she told Forum 18 from Baku on 8 January.
Ibrahimoglu, imam of the Juma mosque in Baku's old city, was detained on 1 December on charges of involvement in the street disturbances on 15 and 16 October that followed the rigged presidential election that, according to the official result, was decisively won by Ilham Aliyev. On 3 December a Baku court ordered him to remain in pre-trial detention for three months. In the first ten days after his arrest, Ibrahimoglu's colleagues were interrogated and threatened (see F18News 9 December 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=207 ), but Najaf Allahverdiev says even that has now stopped.
Ibrahimoglu, an opposition supporter, has consistently rejected any involvement in organising or participating in the disturbances, describing such allegations as "ridiculous". "Having absolutely nothing to do with masterminding the mass clashes and with resistance to the authorities, at someone's order I have been illegally arrested and through that deprived of the possibility to conduct public and human rights activities," he complained in his letter to Forum 18.
"It is quite clear that my illegal arrest is meant to 'punish' me for my human rights activities, for implementation of the ideas of tolerance, and inter-confessional and inter-religious peace and agreement," he added. "All my activities were based on the principle of the supremacy of law and my main objective was to establish a civil society and the victory of democratic ideals."
Ibrahimoglu is just one of 123 opposition activists and others held in the post-election crackdown. "The investigation into the first batch of 42 prisoners has been completed and their cases will go to court," Zeynalov, head of the Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan, told Forum 18 from Baku on 8 January. "But Ibrahimoglu's case is not among them." He said he had written to the general procuracy declaring that there was no reason to hold Ibrahimoglu in detention ahead of any possible trial.
Zeynalov backs up Ibrahimoglu's claim that the authorities had long been seeking an excuse to move against him. "He has formally been detained as an opposition activist, but in reality he has long been on a watch list as a human rights defender," Zeynalov told Forum 18. "His support for the opposition was just an excuse." Ibrahimoglu has also gained public support from the Baptist Church, which he had helped over registration and literature imports. (see F18News 9 December 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=207 )
Ibrahimoglu – whose Juma mosque functioned independently of the Caucasian Muslim Spiritual Administration led by Sheikh-ul-Islam Allashukur Pashazade – rejected government requirements that all mosques must be under the Administration's control. "Pashazade is close to the authorities and called on all Muslims to vote for Ilham Aliyev during the election," Zeynalov points out. "The action against Ibrahimoglu is part of an unannounced campaign against mosques not under the Administration's control. This is a main goal for the authorities."
He also reported that Ibrahimoglu had attracted a lot of people to the Juma mosque by preaching not just in Azeri but in Russian, and was thus able to reach the many Russian-speaking Muslims in Baku.
Zeynalov added that in late November, Ibrahimoglu had told him of a growing movement in Baku to create small neighbourhood Muslim centres where local believers could pray, discuss their faith and distribute aid. "These centres are outside anyone's control and the authorities are worried by them." Zeynalov said these centres appear to have formed spontaneously.
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9 December 2003
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.
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.