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ARMENIA: Conscientious objector "could be taken to jail at any time"

On 16 July, one week before his 21st birthday, Baptist conscientious objector Davit Nazaretyan received the Cassation Court's rejection of his final appeal against his two-year jail term. His application for alternative service had been rejected. "Davit could be taken to jail at any time," his pastor, Mikhail Shubin, told Forum 18 from Yerevan. "I am very disappointed by this decision," human rights defender Isabella Sargsyan of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation told Forum 18. "It is important to follow this particular case as well as the system more generally."

GEORGIA: Government's "real purpose" not to ensure public transparency "but to exert control"

Despite massive protests, the ruling party's Foreign Influence Transparency (Foreign Agent) Law (called by many Georgians including President Salome Zourabichvili the "Russian Law") came into force on 3 June. All civil society organisations (including most religious organisations) receiving more than a fifth of income from abroad must by September enter a range of information on a public register as an "organisation serving the interests of a foreign power". Pastor Zaal Tkeshelashvili of the unregistered Evangelical Church likens the new Law to "the State installing surveillance cameras in every corner to control the religious or private lives of believers".

ARMENIA: Appeal court upholds conscientious objector's jail term

On 7 February, Yerevan's Criminal Court of Appeal rejected 20-year-old Baptist conscientious objector Davit Nazaretyan's appeal against a two-year jail term imposed in October 2023 for refusing military service. The judges ignored European Court of Human Rights judgments, including against Armenia. Nazaretyan's applications for alternative civilian service were repeatedly denied. He is considering a further appeal and will not be required to go to jail until any further appeal is heard. The last known jailed conscientious objector was freed in 2021.

ARMENIA: Conscientious objector's two-year jail term

On 25 October, a Yerevan court handed Baptist conscientious objector Davit Nazaretyan a two-year jail sentence for "Avoidance of mandatory military or alternative service or conscription", despite his repeated requests for alternative civilian service. "Of course it's bad, but the law demands it," said religious affairs official Vardan Astsatryan. Nazaretyan plans to appeal, and is at home until it is heard. Multiple officials have not explained to Forum 18 why international human rights obligations to respect the rights of conscientious objectors to military service should not apply in Nazaretyan's case.

AZERBAIJAN: Will State Committee return religious books seized in 2007?

Shukran Mammadov is still waiting for the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations to return books by Muslim theologian Said Nursi seized in a police raid in 2007. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favour in 2020, and on 1 March 2023 Baku Appeal Court ordered the books to be returned. "The government should have ensured that Shukran's property was returned, but few European Court of Human Rights decisions are fully carried out," Mammadov's lawyer Asabali Mustafayev told Forum 18.

AZERBAIJAN: Yet another conscientious objector case set for Strasbourg?

On 8 June, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court rejected Jehovah's Witness Seymur Mammadov's final appeal against his conviction for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. Initially jailed, he is now halfway through a one-year suspended sentence. He is considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which found in favour of seven conscientious objectors jailed or given suspended sentences earlier. The ECtHR judgments "called for legislative action on civilian service as an alternative to military service". No draft Alternative Service Law has been presented to Parliament.

AZERBAIJAN: Fined for religious celebration, then arrested

At least seven Shia Muslims faced court cases for taking their children to a celebration in a shopping centre of the anniversary of the birth of Fatima, the daughter of the Islamic prophet Mohammad. Four were fined two months' average wage. One of those fined, Mail Karimov, was arrested at the court and is among hundreds of Shia Muslims in jail under investigation on drugs charges which human rights defenders say are fabricated. The criminal trial of Shia Imam Sardar Babayev continues in Baku.

AZERBAIJAN: Conscientious objector's jail term changed to suspended sentence

After 12 weeks in jail, a Ganca court changed the nine-month jail term for Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Seymur Mammadov to a one-year suspended sentence. Another, Royal Karimov, was released after three months' forced detention in a military unit. Both had declared readiness to perform an alternative civilian service. The Human Rights Ombudsperson's Office failed to respond on what action it would take (if any) to ensure that Azerbaijan introduces a civilian alternative service for those unable to serve in the army on grounds of conscience.

AZERBAIJAN: Two women fined for religious work with children

A Baku court fined Shola Jafarova two months' average wage for holding mourning meetings in the Muslim holy month of Muharram and organising children to sing a mourning song uploaded to social media. A Goychay court similarly fined Samira Jafarova for a social media video with 15 children performing a lamentation for Imam Hussain (the third Imam of Shia Islam). She told her appeal hearing that "holding a religious ceremony is her right arising from the Constitution", but the court rejected her appeal.

AZERBAIJAN: Multiple fines for Muslims meeting for prayer in homes

Multiple prosecutions and fines of Muslims - who in different parts of Azerbaijan met for Islamic worship in homes without state permission - have followed raids by police and State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations officials. The Muslims were each fined the equivalent of about two months' average wages for those in formal work. For people in rural areas, those without a formal job, or pensioners, such fines are a heavy financial burden.

AZERBAIJAN: Conscientious objector jailing "very unexpected decision"

On 22 September, a Goranboy court jailed 22-year-old Jehovah's Witness Seymur Mammadov for nine months for refusing compulsory military service on conscientious grounds. On 25 July – two days after his 18th birthday – officers seized conscientious objector Royal Karimov and forcibly took him to a military unit in Ganca, where he is still held. Baku's Sabail District Court extended to March 2023 the pre-trial detention of Shia Muslim Imam Sardar Babayev, held on treason charges since October 2021, Babayev's lawyer Javad Javadov told Forum 18.

AZERBAIJAN: "Torture is nothing new, but insulting Allah is crossing a red line"

After the jailing of a Muslim Unity Movement member for six years, police seized and tortured two of his supporters outside the Baku courtroom. "They put their hands through the sack and pulled out my beard. I was insulted with the crudest of obscene words. They also insulted Allah," one of the two, Suleyman Alakbarov, recounted. In protest, the Movement's leader, prisoner of conscience Taleh Bagirov, began a hunger strike. "Torture is nothing new, but insulting Allah is crossing a red line," said Bagirov's wife Leyla Ismayilzade.