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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: Religion Law amendments "more controlling mechanisms"

On 16 June, President Ilham Aliyev signed into law Religion Law and Administrative Code changes introducing new restrictions on freedom of religion and belief. These include requiring the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations to approve the appointment of all non-Islamic religious leaders and to take part in the re-attestation of all clerics of the state-controlled Caucasian Muslim Board every five years. "Most provisions of the amendments are quite restrictive and raise the question as to whether they are the right policy," human rights defender Rasul Jafarov commented. "Our opinion is that they are not, as they violate all international standards."

AZERBAIJAN: 8 new Strasbourg judgments, 9 judgments awaited - list

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg issued judgments in May and June in eight freedom of religion or belief cases, finding that Azerbaijan had violated human rights and ordering compensation. One of the lawyers in seven of the cases, Asabali Mustafayev, said that all involved were "a little dissatisfied" with the ECtHR judgments, as the Court had not looked at all aspects of the violations included in the cases. Nine other freedom of religion and belief cases from Azerbaijan are awaiting judgments.

AZERBAIJAN: A Strasbourg Court judgment alone "is not enough for justice"

After the latest European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments that Azerbaijan violated freedom of religion and belief, the regime is imposing more restrictions in Religion Law changes. "The judgment of the Court alone is not enough for justice," a lawyer who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18. "The government's failure to fulfil its ECtHR obligations is a serious issue," says another lawyer, Asabali Mustafayev. "The Council of Europe and other international organisations are not insistent enough, so the government gets away with flouting [its obligations]."

AZERBAIJAN: Azerbaijan blocks ordination in Armenian monastery

Azerbaijan's military blocked Armenian pilgrims visiting Dadivank Monastery for Sunday worship on 25 April and the ordination of a priest. The monastery is in territory returned to Azerbaijani control after 2020 fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian peace keepers accompany pilgrims to Dadivank, but "They too were surprised" by the sudden denial of access, says Nagorno-Karabakh's Ombudsperson, Gegham Stepanyan. The ordination had to be moved to another monastery. Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry has not responded on why it blocked access to Dadivank.

AZERBAIJAN: State to have veto on religious leader appointments?

The State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations would acquire a veto over non-Islamic religious communities' appointment of leaders under Religion Law amendments due for their first parliamentary reading on 23 April. It would also be involved in re-attesting Muslim Board clerics every five years. Only communities with a religious centre (headquarters) – requiring five state-registered communities in different locations – would be allowed to apply to have foreign citizens as religious leaders, establish religious educational establishments or organise visits by their adherents abroad.

AZERBAIJAN: Will regime implement UN, European Court of Human Rights decisions?

The UN Human Rights Committee adopted two decisions in favour of four Jehovah's Witnesses, requiring not only that Azerbaijan repay their fines and court fees but review "its domestic legislation, regulations and/or practices" to ensure similar violations cannot recur. Dozens of European Court of Human Rights judgments in freedom of religion or belief cases similarly require changes to law and practice to implement the decisions. The regime has given no public indication of any changes to law and practice to prevent further violations.

AZERBAIJAN: 36 freedom of religion cases pending at ECtHR

Pending at the European Court of Human Rights are 36 known cases relating to violations of freedom of religion or belief, involving 64 individuals and 4 communities. A decision is expected on 22 October in the case of Nina Gridneva, fined for offering religious literature on the street. Other cases cover punishments for leading mosque prayers and holding religious meetings, refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience and the state's religious censorship.

AZERBAIJAN: Regime admits freedom of religion and belief violations to ECtHR

In nine cases concluded in September at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Azerbaijan admitted it violated freedom of religion or belief and the ECtHR has closed the cases. Yet, as lawyer Khalid Agaliyev noted, despite many ECtHR judgments against Azerbaijan, "we don't see any follow-up from these judgments. We want the general human rights situation to change under the influence of these judgments. Unfortunately, this is not happening".

AZERBAIJAN: Strasbourg Court rules long pre-trial detention "excessive"

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has ruled in three cases in 2020 that Azerbaijan violated the rights of 13 individuals by subjecting them to excessively long pre-trial detention, and ordered compensation. Five of these had been detained for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Imam Taleh Bagirov – who was tortured in pre-trial detention – and Zakir Mustafayev are still serving jail terms.

AZERBAIJAN: Will fired parliamentary staffer be reinstated?

Former parliamentary staffer Rahim Akhundov says he was fired in December 2018 on secret police orders as he is a Christian. Courts – most recently Baku Appeal Court on 10 June 2020 - rejected arguments that his unsigned dismissal letter is illegal, and he could not appeal earlier as Parliament sent the letter nine months late. He will appeal to the Supreme Court when he receives the written appeal rejection.

AZERBAIJAN: Will regime implement alternative service commitment?

Ruling party deputy Siyavush Novruzov told parliament on 30 March that an Alternative Service Law should be adopted. Parliament's Defence Committee is handling this, he told Forum 18. The government has not made public any draft. Azerbaijan committed to the Council of Europe to have alternative service by 2003 but failed to meet its obligation. Jehovah's Witnesses say criminal cases against their conscientious objectors are not being pursued.

AZERBAIJAN: "No objection" to limited worship, but no legal right

After 25 years, Aliabad's Baptist community, denied legal status the longest, finally began open worship in January. The State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations wrote that it had "no objection" to meetings once a week for two hours. Shia Imam Sardar Babayev, freed after a three-year sentence for preaching in a mosque with foreign education, will not resume preaching for fear of renewed criminal prosecution.