f18 Logo

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

AZERBAIJAN: Will State Committee return religious books seized in 2007?

Shukran Mammadov is still waiting for the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations to return books by Muslim theologian Said Nursi seized in a police raid in 2007. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favour in 2020, and on 1 March 2023 Baku Appeal Court ordered the books to be returned. "The government should have ensured that Shukran's property was returned, but few European Court of Human Rights decisions are fully carried out," Mammadov's lawyer Asabali Mustafayev told Forum 18.

AZERBAIJAN: Yet another conscientious objector case set for Strasbourg?

On 8 June, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court rejected Jehovah's Witness Seymur Mammadov's final appeal against his conviction for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. Initially jailed, he is now halfway through a one-year suspended sentence. He is considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which found in favour of seven conscientious objectors jailed or given suspended sentences earlier. The ECtHR judgments "called for legislative action on civilian service as an alternative to military service". No draft Alternative Service Law has been presented to Parliament.

AZERBAIJAN: Fined for religious celebration, then arrested

At least seven Shia Muslims faced court cases for taking their children to a celebration in a shopping centre of the anniversary of the birth of Fatima, the daughter of the Islamic prophet Mohammad. Four were fined two months' average wage. One of those fined, Mail Karimov, was arrested at the court and is among hundreds of Shia Muslims in jail under investigation on drugs charges which human rights defenders say are fabricated. The criminal trial of Shia Imam Sardar Babayev continues in Baku.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

AZERBAIJAN: Treason case against Imam Sardar Babayev "clearly fabricated"

The State Security Service 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.

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."

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.

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".