AZERBAIJAN: Independent Muslim human rights leader detained
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.
Agakhan Akhadov, an investigator at the general procuracy for especially serious crimes who had summoned Ibrahimoglu for questioning and had interrogated him all day, declined to give Forum 18 any details about any charges that might be levelled at Ibrahimoglu or why he was questioned for so many hours. "I don't know you, I can't see you," he told Forum 18 by telephone from his office on 2 December. "Anyone could phone me up and claim to be a journalist." All he would confirm was that Ibrahimoglu was formally detained at 9 pm on 1 December.
Rashidov maintained that Akhadov had been reluctant to sign the warrant to detain Ibrahimoglu, believing there was no reason for his detention. So the warrant was signed by Ramid Rzayev.
As well as being imam of the Juma Mosque, Ibrahimoglu is a board member of the Islam-Ittihad Society, 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). "Probably, certain reactionary circles did not like the vigorous activity of Devamm and IRLA in the construction of a legal civil society and the struggle for human rights," Devamm declared in the wake of Ibrahimoglu's detention.
After what Rashidov describes as a campaign of "slander" against him in the media, including allegations that he was abroad and was being sought by Interpol, Ibrahimoglu gave media interviews in November making clear that he was in Baku and was not being sought. On 28 November, Ibrahimoglu received a letter from the department of investigation of criminal cases at the general procuracy, signed by Akhadov, ordering him to appear for questioning at 10 am on 1 December as a witness in case No. 80308. Ibrahimoglu went for questioning with his lawyer Elton Guliyev.
In the wake of the disputed 15 October presidential election, which the opposition claims was rigged, police raided the Juma mosque during Friday prayers on 17 October in what appears to have been an attempt to arrest Ibrahimoglu and his colleague Azer Ramizoglu. Ibrahimoglu escaped arrest by seeking refuge in the nearby Royal Norwegian embassy, which he left only on 20 October (see F18News 22 October 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=168 ).
Apart from participating in a human rights conference in neighbouring Georgia organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Ibrahimoglu has spent all his time since then in Baku, continuing his "human rights, scholarly and religious activity", Rashidov declared. "We don't know what they have against him - he has done nothing illegal."
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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.
3 November 2003
Following Forum 18 News Service's report of official threats to a local Baptist, Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have defended to Forum 18 the actions they took against him and their restrictions on minority religious activity. The authorities state action was taken, not on the basis of martial law as police claimed but, on the basis of street-trading and customs legislation, and deny that threats were made against the Baptist or his family. The authorities also point out that the only faith to have state registration is the Armenian Apostolic Church. Nagorno-Karabakh states that it abides by international human rights agreements. However all such agreements prevent religious activity being restricted because religious communities either do not have or wish to acquire state registration.
24 October 2003
A Baptist in Nagorno-Karabakh has been beaten up, threatened with mind-altering drugs and had threats against his wife, for distributing religious literature on the street. At the same time his local church had all its religious literature confiscated. Police claim this is legal under martial law, which amongst other restrictions on civil liberties bans the activity of "religious sects and unregistered organisations". However a senior Nagorno-Karabakh representative has claimed to Forum 18 that martial law restrictions have ended and that "There are no restrictions on the activity of any religious communities". Other Protestants, Pentecostals, Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses have also all faced restrictions on their activity which still continue. At the same time the Armenian Apostolic Church has become the de facto state religion.