AZERBAIJAN: Jailed for sharing faith, "non-constructive teaching" and "creating tensions between family members".
One Baha'i, Tavachur Aliyev, has been jailed for ten days, allegedly for not obeying the police, but really for sharing his faith, Baha'i sources have told Forum 18 News Service. Forum 18 has also been told that 18 Muslims were also jailed for two weeks, on charges of giving "non-constructive teaching" and "creating tensions between family members". The imprisonments took place during a fresh crackdown on religious activity in the exclave of Nakhichevan (Naxçivan), between Armenia, Turkey and Iran. Other religious communities such as the Seventh-day Adventists have also suffered at the hands of the authorities, who deny that religious persecution takes place in the exclave, and also decline to talk to Forum 18.
"Wahhabi" is strictly speaking an adherent of the school of Islam which predominates in Saudi Arabia, but is widely – and incorrectly – used in many former Soviet republics to denote someone the authorities regard as a fundamentalist. In Uzbekistan, officials also use the term to describe Jehovah's Witnesses.
Nakhichevan – an Azerbaijani exclave wedged between Armenia, Iran and Turkey – has some of the strictest controls on religious activity in the whole of Azerbaijan. No religious communities currently have legal status and only mosques are allowed to function – all other minority religious communities, such as the Adventists, have been "crushed," in the words of one church leader. It has been suggested to Forum 18 that the authorities in Nakhichevan are doing what authorities in the rest of Azerbaijan would like to do. (see F18News 10 December 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=474).
Idris Abbasov, head of the Nakhichevan branch of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, has always denied that any religious persecution takes place in the exclave (see F18News 8 May 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=49). He declined to talk to Forum 18 on 10 December.
Baha'i sources told Forum 18 that Tavachur Aliyev was summoned to his local police station in mid-September, but when he arrived later than the appointed time he could not find anyone at the police station. He went to work intending to return later, but was detained the same day on accusations of not obeying the police. He was then sentenced to ten days' imprisonment.
The Baha'is believe the case was set up to punish him for speaking to others about his faith. "We are sure this was the real reason," one Baha'i told Forum 18, "though the authorities often find another pretext." The Baha'i insisted that if the true intent was to punish Aliyev for arriving late at the police station, as a first offence he should at most have been fined.
When Aliyev was freed at the end of his sentence, officials extracted a verbal promise from him not to speak further of his faith to anyone. "Of course it was wrong for officials to extract this promise," Baha'i sources told Forum 18. "Everyone in the country has the right to teach any faith." They point out that for Baha'is "our religion is our life" and that it is impossible not to speak of their faith.
Even while Aliyev was still in prison the Baha'i community complained to the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, but it wrote back to say that it had investigated his case and claimed that Aliyev had not been detained for his religious activities. Also in September, the Baha'i community wrote to the ombudsperson, Elmira Suleymanova, but she replied immediately to say that the case had been thoroughly investigated and that the Nakhichevan authorities had reported to her that Aliyev had not been imprisoned for his religious beliefs.
The names of the 18 Muslims detained are unknown and Haji Sultan declined to discuss further with Forum 18 the exact nature of the charges against them. "No official reason for the detentions was given," Haji Hajili, a researcher on a religious freedom project at the FAR Centre, a Baku-based research institute, told Forum 18 on 25 November. However, other sources told Forum 18 that they were imprisoned for giving "non-constructive teaching" and "creating tensions between family members". (END)
For more background information see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=92
A printer-friendly map of Azerbaijan is available at
10 December 2004
Adventist leaders have told Forum 18 News Service that their community in Nakhichevan (Naxçivan), an exclave between Armenia, Turkey and Iran, has been "crushed," and the police have banned them from meeting. Baha'is have told Forum 18 that "we can't do anything in Nakhichevan," and the imprisonment of one Baha'i and 18 Muslim imams has been reported. Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu told Forum 18 that "in Nakhichevan officials are more open about persecution than elsewhere." This opinion was backed by Professor Ali Abasov, president of the Azerbaijani branch of the International Religious Liberty Association, who said that "there is no democracy, no free media and no human rights in Nakhichevan." Asked by Forum 18 why, he responded with a grim laugh: "The authorities don't want it," insisting that the Nakhichevan authorities are doing what the authorities in the rest of Azerbaijan would like to do. The authorities have repeatedly denied any religious persecution and have declined to talk to Forum 18.
9 December 2004
"We rely on God. If we're persecuted for the name of Christ we're blessed," a Pastor told Forum 18 News Service after commenting that "our constitution guarantees us freedom of religion and belief, but in reality we don't have it." Baptists in north-west Azerbaijan face being prevented from working by the authorities, intimidation, and refusal to register their children's births with Christian names, Forum 18 has found. The birth registration ban stops children going to kindergarten or to school, getting treatment in a hospital, or travelling abroad. Despite the detailed accounts of Baptists met by Forum 18, the head of the town administration has strenuously denied their statements. Forum 18 has also been told that people who visit Baptist services are threatened with the loss of their jobs, a powerful threat in a region where unemployment is high, and that the police have banned the holding of a Sunday school for children.
8 December 2004
"We don't need any Baptists here," Najiba Mamedova, the notary of Azerbaijan's north-western Zakatala [Zaqatala] region shouted at Forum 18 News Service, asked why she has for more than a year refused to notarise the signatures on the registration application of a local Baptist congregation. "We don't want a second Karabakh," Najiba Mamedova screamed, adding "Who financed you? Go to them," before throwing Forum 18 out of her office and threatening to call the police. The church's pastor, Hamid Shabanov, told Forum 18 that "She always spoke to us like that." The church began applying for registration in 1994, making it the religious community which has been denied registration in Azerbaijan for the longest period. The head of the Aliabad administration, Gasim Orujov, has refused to allow the Baptists to build a church in the village. "There is Islam here and we have our mosque," he told Forum 18.