AZERBAIJAN: Police seize imam and three others during mosque prayers
Police forcibly interrupted the prayers of imam Adil Huseinov - a colleague of Juma mosque imam and religious freedom activist Ilgar Ibrahimoglu - and three other Muslims, and detained all four overnight. Muslims consider it to be sacrilegious to interrupt prayers, but the start of prayers was the signal for the police to move in. The police also acted offensively in failing to remove their boots and weapons before entering the mosque, as Islam requires. Imam Ibrahimoglu told Forum 18 News Service that all four were beaten, threatened and insulted before being released this morning. However police then seized five other community members arriving for prayers this morning (5 July) and are still holding them.
Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev, Huseinov's colleague and the mosque's main imam, told Forum 18 that the four were held overnight by Sabail district police where they were beaten, threatened and insulted before being released this morning. But he said police seized five other community members who arrived for Monday morning prayers and took them to the 39th district police station, where they are still being held.
No-one was available to comment on the police raids and the detentions at the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, which controls religious activity in Azerbaijan. Nigar Mamedova told Forum 18 on 5 July that only committee chairman Rafik Aliev was authorised to comment and he was not in the office until 6 July.
Nor did anyone answer the phone on 5 July in the mosque office which has, since the police raid on 30 June (see F18News 30 June http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=352) and the forcible installation of imams loyal to the Caucasian Muslim Board (see F18News 2 July http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=354), been under police guard and inaccessible to Juma mosque members.
Ambassador Gil told Forum 18 that one of the newly-imposed imams rejected by the community had led Sunday evening prayers for his 15 or so followers inside the mosque while up to 200 Juma mosque members waited patiently for them to finish. Then imam Huseinov began to lead the prayers. "The police didn't take off their boots and came in wearing sidearms, though they were not holding weapons or truncheons in their hands." Muslims regard entering mosques wearing shoes or carrying weapons as offensive.
Ambassador Gil said the community – which has rejected a court decision to oust them from the historic mosque they have been using for the last twelve years and has rejected new imams being imposed on them with the backing of the police – was "very dignified and disciplined". "They didn't allow themselves to be provoked and left very quietly after the police seized their imam."
Also witnessing the Sunday evening detentions was Robin Seaword, acting head of the Baku office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"Speaking as a religious freedom and human rights advocate I can declare that there is no religious freedom in Azerbaijan," Ibrahimoglu told Forum 18. He particularly objected to the arrest taking place during prayers and by police wearing boots inside the mosque.
He said between fifty and 200 police have encircled the mosque and they refused to open it up to allow the community to celebrate morning prayer. "Those held overnight were threatened that they will be arrested if they visit the mosque again," he reported. "This is a police regime. The house of God no longer exists."
The authorities have long disliked imam Ibrahimoglu, known for his defence of the religious freedom of Christians and Muslims (see
F18News 5 April 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=294), and the mosque community, which insists on functioning independently of the Caucasian Muslim Board. The Sabail district court on 1 March ordered the community out of the 1000-year-old Shia mosque and the appeal court upheld the expulsion on 22 April. Court executor Nuridin Mustafaev told Forum 18 in April that expelling the Muslims from their mosque would be "unpleasant" but that he is obliged to carry out court orders (see F18News 26 April 2004
For more background information see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
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2 July 2004
AZERBAIJAN: Juma mosque stolen by police, community refused access for worship, and new imam imposed
Following Wednesday's police attack on Baku's Juma mosque community and its religious freedom activist imam, in which an attempt to impose a new imam failed, Forum 18 News Service has ascertained that the police have now seized control of the 1,000 year old mosque, imposed a new imam against the will of Muslims who worship there, and are refusing to allow the existing mosque community to use their own mosque for prayers and other religious activities. The mosque community has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, following previous attacks on their religious freedom by the authorities.
30 June 2004
Police today have twice forcibly expelled Muslims from a 1,000 year old Baku mosque that the authorities want to turn into a carpet museum, and tried to impose a new Imam on the community. However, community members were allowed back into the mosque for afternoon prayers, before being expelled again. The police attack was observed by Ambassador Steinar Gil of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, as well as diplomats from the British and US embassies, as well as the OSCE. Ambassador Gil told Forum 18 that the Muslims "behaved very calmly and with restraint, doing nothing to provoke further violence", and other witnesses told Forum 18 News Service that the police beat some community members up. The authorities' attempt to impose their own imam on the mosque community failed. The current imam, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, is strongly disliked by the authorities for his religious freedom and human rights campaigning for Christians and Muslims.
10 June 2004
Islamic religious extremism in Uzbekistan – which threatens to spread in Central Asia and elsewhere - is largely the result of government repression and lack of democracy, Azerbaijani scholar and translator of the Koran Nariman Gasimoglu, head of the Center for Religion and Democracy http://addm.az.iatp.net/ana.html in Baku and a former Georgetown University (USA) visiting scholar, argues in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. Extremist Islamist groups, like the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party, which do not yet enjoy widespread support, have been strengthened by repression while moderate Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses have suffered. The best, if not the only way to counter religious extremism, Gasimoglu maintains, is to open up society to religious freedom for all, democracy, and free discussion – even including Islamist groups. This is the only way, he argues, of depriving Islamic extremism of support by revealing the reality of what extremism in power would mean.