AZERBAIJAN: Court decides to "immediately" expel Muslims from mosque
A court has decided today (1 March) to "immediately" expel the Muslim community of the 1,000 year-old Juma mosque in Baku's Old City, Forum 18 news Service has learnt. This is an apparent punishment for the community's independence from the authorities, and for its stance defending human rights, including religious freedom, for all in Azerbaijan. The Muslims now fear that police could expel them at any moment. Ilya Zenchenko, head of Azerbaijan's Baptist community, called the ruling a "blatant injustice". "The government fights not only against dissidents, like Christians and others, but even against Muslims, its own," he told Forum 18. "It is not even a Muslim government. It is against God." He said the government wants everyone to worship and fear it, and not to speak out. "It is trying to take the place of God."
The court ruling gave no deadline for the Muslims to leave the mosque, though ordered it to take place "immediately". The Muslims now fear the police could arrive to oust them at any moment.
This is the latest move by the authorities against the mosque and its imprisoned Imam, human rights activist Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev, who has been active in defending the religious freedom of all faiths in Azerbaijan (see F18News 20 February http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=258 ).
Among the observers at the trial were representatives of the United States and Royal Norwegian embassies, as well as the Baku office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also present was Mehmet Gaidarov, an official of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, which has long sought to end the Juma mosque's religious activity.
Leaping to the Muslims' defence is Ilya Zenchenko, head of Azerbaijan's Baptist community, who called the ruling a "blatant injustice". "The government fights not only against dissidents, like Christians and others, but even against Muslims, its own," he told Forum 18 from Baku on 1 March. "It is not even a Muslim government. It is against God." He said the government wants everyone to worship and fear it, and not to speak out. "It is trying to take the place of God."
Najaf Allahverdiev complained that at the three-hour hearing, Judge Yusif Karimov "violated all legal procedures" by not allowing the mosque representatives to make their case properly, question the architectural conservation area that had brought the action to oust the community and, crucially, refused to allow the Muslims enough time to study six documents presented for the first time at the hearing. "The documents were hidden from us up till now," Allahverdiev complained. "The judge offered us only five minutes to study them."
Among the newly-presented documents was, he said, a 19 January letter from Baku mayor Hajibala Abutalybov to the local police instructing them to remove the Muslims from the mosque.
Allahverdiev claimed the court had failed to prove that the mosque's failure to gain reregistration invalidated its original 1993 Justice Ministry registration, one of the conservation area's accusations.
Allahverdiev said the Muslim representatives left the courtroom before Judge Karimov presented his ruling in protest at the way the proceedings were being conducted. "We made a statement outside to say this was a continuation of the persecutions [under Stalin] of 1937 and a violation of religious freedom," Allahverdiev told Forum 18.
"Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Azerbaijani Constitution guarantee us the right to religious freedom," he continued. "We will continue to pray in our mosque and defend it. Ashura prayers will continue all night tonight and tomorrow."
The Muslims plan to lodge an appeal against the court ruling on 3 March after Ashura. "We are not losing hope. The force of the state will not stop is praying. They will need truncheons to drive us out of our mosque."
For more background information see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map of Azerbaijan is available at
25 February 2004
Police have refused to protect an Adventist pastor in Nakhichevan (Naxçivan), who has been threatened by local men with death or being driven out of the community. "People phone and come to my house to threaten us but the authorities have refused to help," Pastor Khalid Babaev told Forum 18 News Service. Pastor Babaev fears for the safety of his wife and son, and does not know if it will be safe to hold a service as usual next Saturday. Local Muslims have threatened to sacrifice Babaev as a holy duty and to halt Adventist religious activity in Nakhichevan. If Pastor Babaev holds another service, he has been told that a mob will be collected to attack his house. The police have refused to discuss the threats with Forum 18, or say what they would do to protect church members from the threatened violence.
20 February 2004
Court proceedings to seize the 1,000 year-old Juma mosque in Baku, which the government wants to turn into a carpet museum, are due on Wednesday 25 February, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "You know that judges in Azerbaijan are not independent, so they'll rule to close down the mosque and kick us out," Seymur Rashidov, a mosque spokesman, told Forum 18. "But we'll challenge any such decision through the courts, even to the European Court of Human Rights." The mosque's jailed Imam, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev, has pleaded for international publicity and help: "All the hope is for the help of dear friends for whom religious freedom and human rights are not just words but their life mission.", he wrote to Forum 18. The mosque and its young imam have been prominent defenders of religious freedom for all, including Baptists and Adventists. Amongst foreign embassies expected to attend the court hearings is the Royal Norwegian Embassy. "We will be following the case very closely – we will be there," Ambassador Steinar Gil told Forum 18.
12 February 2004
A deputy head of police has threatened a Baptist Pastor, trying "to drive him out of the town, ban him from visiting and insulted him as a 'traitor' for having adopted Christianity," the leader of the Baptist church in Azerbaijan has told Forum 18 News Service. This is one of many problems Baptists have, including other threats from local police officers and congregations being unable to get state registration. An Azeri-language Baptist church has been closed down and its pastor banned from preaching and subjected to a harsh media campaign. Also, 50,000 Azeri-language New Testaments have been denied entry to Azerbaijan. Baptists have told Forum 18 of their opposition to attempts to crush the Muslim community of Baku's Juma mosque led by imprisoned imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev. The Baptists have been prominent in his defence, pointing out that his arrest "testifies to the intentions of the authorities to restrict even further the religious freedom not only of Baptists but of all believers in Azerbaijan".