The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief
16 December 2022
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.
13 December 2022
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.
9 December 2022
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.
29 September 2022
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.
17 June 2022
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.
15 June 2022
AZERBAIJAN: Treason case against Imam Sardar Babayev "clearly fabricated"
The State Security Ministry secret police arrested Shia Muslim Imam Sardar Babayev in October 2021 on treason charges. On 14 April, a Baku court extended pre-trial detention for a further five months. Human rights defender Elshan Hasanov described the treason case against Imam Babayev as "clearly fabricated". "No one believes Sardar Babayev is an Iranian spy," said exiled human rights defender Arif Yunus. Imam Babayev has already served a three-year jail term for leading mosque prayers after gaining Islamic education outside Azerbaijan.
10 June 2022
AZERBAIJAN: Direct regime employing and firing imams is "role of a religious organisation"
In the first known use of new powers for appointing, re-appointing every five years, and firing all Islamic clergy, in early May, the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations fired Imam Mirseymur Aliyev in Neftchala. He had held end of Ramadan prayers on 3 May, not the regime-enforced date of 2 May. Lawyer Asabali Mustafayev noted that the regime taking direct control of Islamic clergy means that "the state is now playing the role of a religious organisation."
14 March 2022
AZERBAIJAN: State appointment of all imams now in law
On 11 March, President Ilham Aliyev signed further Religion Law amendments handing responsibility for naming prayer leaders in all mosques from the Caucasian Muslim Board to the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. A State Committee official says "it has not yet been decided which [State Committee] Department will name imams". Told that Forum 18 was unaware of any Muslims demanding that the state name imams, the official responded: "How do you know?" Commentator Kanan Rovshanoglu says the amendments "mean that religious activity will increasingly be concentrated in the hands of the state". The UN Human Rights Committee issued two further rulings that Azerbaijan violated the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses to freedom of religion or belief.
16 February 2022
AZERBAIJAN: Imam's pre-trial imprisonment extended in treason case
A Baku court has extended pre-trial imprisonment for Shia imam Sardar Babayev until April. The secret police arrested the former prisoner of conscience in October 2021 and is investigating him on criminal charges of treason. Six other arrested Shia preachers were freed and criminal cases dropped. "It's a question of relations between Azerbaijan and Iran," a commentator noted, but insists charges of treason are unfounded. "If someone has sympathy for Iran, does it make them an Iranian agent?" A Baku mosque police closed in October 2021 on alleged coronavirus grounds remains closed. A spokesperson said police close mosques, "but we do so when we get a request from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations".
10 February 2022
AZERBAIJAN: State takes direct control of mosque leadership
The State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations will take over naming imams in all mosques from the Caucasian Muslim Board if amendments to the Religion Law awaiting their second reading in Parliament are approved. The amendments would also give the State Committee the leading role in re-appointing all imams every five years. Commentator on religious issues Kanan Rovshanoglu notes that the Caucasian Muslim Board "will completely lose control over mosques", just as it has already lost control over Islamic higher education. He argues that Islamic communities themselves should choose their own imams. Another amendment would remove the possibility for non-Muslim communities to have a "religious centre" or headquarter body.
5 November 2021
AZERBAIJAN: Alternative service "not under discussion" despite latest ECtHR decision
Despite another European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decision that Azerbaijan violated the human rights of two more conscientious objectors, Saadat Novruzova of the Presidential Administration's Human Rights Protection Unit told Forum 18 that changing the law to introduce a civilian alternative to compulsory military service "is not under discussion". Azerbaijan committed to the Council of Europe to introduce an alternative service by January 2003. The 7 October ECtHR decision reminded Azerbaijan of a similar earlier decision that "calls in principle for legislative action" to satisfy "the obligations incumbent on it of assuring .. the right to benefit from the right to conscientious objection".
8 July 2021
AZERBAIJAN: "They hold services and pray there, but without a congregation"
Azerbaijani military forces have blocked Armenian Apostolic Church pilgrims' access to Sunday worship at Dadivank Monastery since 2 May, citing first coronavirus, then a blocked road because of a landslip. "They do not want Dadivank to function as a Christian monastery, but they can't say directly that they don't want this," Nagorno-Karabakh's Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamian stated. "So they use technical issues." The Monastery, in Azerbaijani territory close to the ethnic Armenian-controlled unrecognised entity of Nagorno-Karabakh, is home to six monks and is protected by Russian peacekeepers.