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Found 11 results

  1. Azerbaijan: "The regime is trying to suppress any criticism anywhere by any means" Â
  2. Azerbaijan sues French journalists for calling the country a 'dictatorship' Â
  3. HRWF (12.04.2017) –
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    – On 9 April The State Committee for Work with Religious Structures together with law enforcement agencies cracked down on a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Qaradag district of Baku at two addresses. Thirty-three, including ten children, were participating in the religious gathering. In addition, a large quantity of religious literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses was seized. An investigation is being conducted.
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  4. Baku. April 10. INTERFAX – the state Committee for work with religious organizations in cooperation with law enforcement bodies of Azerbaijan have stopped the illegal activities of members of the sect “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, the press service of the Ministry. “GCRs together with law enforcement bodies held on 9 April on the territory of Garadagh district of Baku swift action on two addresses. As a result of the activities was identified and stopped an illegal meeting of members of nontraditional religious movements “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, – stated in the message. It is noted that out of 33 participants of meetings in two locations ten were young children. In addition, were found and withdrawn in a large amount of propaganda literature of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. The investigation is ongoing.
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  5. Three Jehovah's Witnesses, two Baptists, and a bookseller have each been fined three to four months' average wages. Their "offences" include discussing beliefs, offering religious literature, and meeting for prayer. And an unlicensed mosque has been raided and had allegedly "superstitious" items confiscated. In early January 2017, a higher court rejected the appeal by three Jehovah's Witnesses from Goranboy District in western Azerbaijan against large fines, imposed for discussing their faith with others and offering religious literature. The accused were not allowed to prepare a defence or speak in court (see below). Two Baptists in the northern Zakatala [Zaqatala] District were fined in December 2016 for leading worship services without state permission after a large police raid two weeks earlier. The Saturday morning raid on an "illegal" meeting for prayer resulted in the detention of more than 30 adults and children present, after which 16 women and 10 men were questioned at the local police station until 10 pm at night. Police sent confiscated religious literature to the capital Baku for alleged "expert analysis". "Everything was done well," police Major Amil Muradov told Forum 18 before putting the phone down (see below). Also, a Baku court fined local resident Elnara Qasimova for selling religious materials without the compulsory permission from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations and the local administration. However, on 17 January 2017 Baku Appeal Court cancelled the fine and sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing (see below). It appears that Qasimova's prosecution was a result of raids by State Committee officials as well as police officers on at least five shops selling religious literature in Baku's Sabail and Nasimi Districts, announced on 2 December 2016. Officials said five shops were selling religious literature "illegally" (see below). The three Jehovah's Witnesses, two Baptists and Baku bookseller Qasimova were each fined about three to four months' average wage. (The State Statistics Committee gives the average monthly wage for those in work between January and October 2016 as nearly 494 Manats.) Also, officials in Baku confiscated 59 religious books, 19 videotapes, 27 DVDs and 80 CDs which they claimed had not passed state censorship, adding that unspecified items "included elements of khurafat [prejudice or superstition]". This term does not appear in published law. The confiscation followed a December 2016 raid on a Shia Muslim community operating without state permission (see below). Fined for discussing faith Trouble began in mid-November 2016 for two Jehovah's Witnesses in Goranboy District, Jaarey Suleymanova and Gulnaz Israfilova. The two women had been visiting a woman "who had enjoyed their Bible discussions for many months", Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Subsequently, the Goranboy District Police charged the two women under the Code of Administrative Offences' Article 515.0.4 ("Religious associations operating away from their registered legal address"). The fine for individuals for this "offence" is between 1,500 and 2,000 Manats (see F18News 2 June 2016
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    ). Police handed the case to Goranboy District Court. On 17 November 2016, Judge Ismayil Abdurahmanli handed them each the maximum fine of 2,000 Manats, more than four months' average wages for those in work, according to court records. Suleymanova and Israfilova lodged appeals against the fines to Gyanja [Gäncä] Appeal Court. However, on the afternoon of 5 January 2017, Judge Fikrat Aliyev rejected their appeals, according to court records. Goranboy District Police brought exactly the same charges against another local Jehovah's Witness, Ziyad Dadashov. "Four men from his village testified that Ziyad Dadashov had spoken of his beliefs and offered Bible literature," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Police handed the case to Goranboy District Court. On 2 December 2016, Judge Shirzad Huseynov found Dadashov guilty under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. The Judge fined him 1,500 Manats, more than three months' average wages for those in work, according to court records. Dadashov similarly appealed against the fine to Gyanja Appeal Court. However, on the morning of 5 January 2017, Judge Badal Aliyev rejected his appeal, according to court records. "In neither case did the defendants have the opportunity to prepare their defence, nor did they have the opportunity to speak during court hearings," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. Reached on 17 January, an official of Goranboy District Police refused to discuss anything with Forum 18 and put the phone down. Meeting for prayer raided On the morning of Saturday 26 November 2016, about 10 uniformed police officers and several men in plain clothes (including local State Committee representative Mehman Ismayilov) raided the home of a Baptist leader in the village of Aliabad in Zakatala District. They arrived about half an hour after a regular prayer meeting had begun in the home of Hamid and Hinayat Shabanov, fellow Baptists told Forum 18. About 30 adults and several children were present at the prayer meeting. The officers ordered Hamid Shabanov and his fellow Baptists to halt the prayer meeting, "saying it was illegal because of the lack of state registration". An Interior Ministry statement on the day of the raid said State Committee representatives accompanied Zakatala Police on the raid. The statement did not identify the community as Baptist, speaking only of "an illegal religious gathering aimed at spreading a religious sect banned under the law". It added that 16 items of religious literature had been confiscated and sent for "expert analysis" to the State Committee in Baku. Alleged "expert analysis" is used to justify the stringent imposition of state censorship (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey
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    ). Colleagues of Zakatala State Committee representative Ismayilov told Forum 18 on 17 January 2017 that he was not in the office. They refused to comment on the raid on the Baptists. Over several hours on 26 November 2016, officers held those present for the prayer meeting in a room in Shabanov's home. They allowed individuals out only to go to the toilet, one at a time. Officers wrote down the names and identity document details of all those present. They also compiled a list of all the religious literature they could find belonging to the church or its members, Baptists complained to Forum 18. Police then took 26 church members (16 women and 10 men) to the District Police Station, where officers demanded that they each write a statement. Police had already confiscated several of the individuals' phones. By 10 pm officers had released all 26 of those detained. Only on 29 November did police return the confiscated identity documents to the church members. The same day the investigator announced that charges were being brought against church members for meeting "illegally" without state registration. The investigator did not say how many cases had been prepared and when they would be handed to court. Against international human rights law, all exercise of freedom of religion and belief by more than one person without state permission is banned (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey
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    ). All those detained during the raid signed an appeal to the State Committee in Baku for their Church to be allowed to worship freely, Shabanov told Forum 18. The Church has received no response. Two fined, church banned from meeting Police summoned to Zakatala Police Station on 12 December all 26 church members who had been detained during the 26 November raid. Police had prepared records of an offence against two church members, Hamid Shabanov and Mehman Agamammadov under Administrative Code Article 515.0.2 ("Violating legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies"). The fine for individuals for this "offence" is between 1,500 and 2,000 Manats (see F18News 2 June 2016
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    ). The cases were handed to Zakatala District Court. There in a 15-minute hearing on 12 December 2016, Judge Arif Ismayilov found both Shabanov and Agamammadov guilty and fined them each the minimum fine, 1,500 Manats, the Judge told Forum 18 from the Court on 17 January. Judge Ismayilov claimed to Forum 18 that both men had admitted their guilt in court. Shabanov denied this. "I told the court it was not our fault, as we applied but they won't give us registration," he told Forum 18. Judge Ismayilov insisted that Shabanov and Agamammadov had been given the court decisions in writing, though he refused to say when or how. However, Shabanov denied this. "We rang the court and visited it, but they wouldn't send or give us the decision," he told Forum 18. "We had 10 days to appeal against the fine but that's now gone. But they haven't demanded the money either." On 15 December 2016 officials returned all the confiscated books to the church. "The State Committee in Baku looked at them and could find nothing wrong with them," Shabanov told Forum 18 However, police and the Judge told the Church that it is illegal for church members to meet for worship. They were warned that if they do so they will be fined. One Zakatala Police officer who prepared the prosecution materials in Agamammadov's case for the court, Major Amil Muradov, refused to discuss the ban on the church's activity or the raid. "Everything was done well," was all he would tell Forum 18 on 17 January 2017 before putting the phone down. History of raids, fines, imprisonments, registration denial Shabanov's church and a fellow Baptist congregation in Aliabad have been seeking state registration since the mid-1990s. However, state officials have consistently refused to process the applications, including the most recent application the Church submitted in 2010 after changes to the Religion Law (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey
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    ). State officials have repeatedly harassed Aliabad's Baptists since the 1990s, with repeated police raids on worship meetings and confiscation of religious literature. Several church members were sacked from their jobs because of their faith, including a nurse from a hospital and the head of the local kindergarten. Baptists were banned from using the collective farm's agricultural machinery for their plots, and from receiving state subsidies provided to other farmers, Ilya Zenchenko, the head of the Baptist Union, complained to Forum 18 from Baku. Officials have in the past denied registration to children of local Baptists who had chosen Biblical names for their new-born children (see eg. F18News 25 February 2010
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    ). One of the Church's pastors, former prisoner of conscience Zaur Balaev, was imprisoned on false charges from May 2007 to March 2008 (see F18News 19 March 2008
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    ). Another pastor of the Church, former prisoner of conscience Hamid Shabanov, was held in pre-trial detention from June to November 2008. In February 2009 he was given a two-year suspended sentence on charges he and his fellow-Baptists insisted were also fabricated to punish him for exercising his freedom of religion and belief (see F18News 12 February 2009
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    ). "Despite all this they continue to meet to this day," Pastor Zenchenko noted, "under the leading of their hearts – which love God – and in accordance with Azerbaijan's Constitution guaranteeing freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience and religious belief." But Baptists feel angry that police action had violated the alleged 2016 Year of Tolerance declared by President Ilham Aliyev. The regime uses claims of its alleged "religious tolerance" to camouflage its multiple human rights violations (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey
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    ). Police and religious affairs officials raid Baku bookshops State Committee officials and police officers raided at least five shops selling religious literature in Baku's Sabail and Nasimi Districts, the Interior Ministry and the State Committee announced on 2 December 2016. State Committee officials said five shops were selling religious literature and other religious items "illegally". Police confiscated 433 different religious titles being sold without the compulsory hologram sticker showing that the books had the required permission from the State Committee to be sold. Officers drew up records of an offence in each case. The latest Baku bookshop raids appear to be a continuation of earlier raids. Police and officials of the State Committee raided at least 26 shops and six homes across Azerbaijan in October and early November 2016 to seize religious literature being distributed without the compulsory state permission. Some book sellers were then punished. All the literature confiscated from shops appears to have been Muslim (see F18News 16 November 2016
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    ). Religious literature and other materials can be sold or distributed only at specialised outlets which have been approved both by the State Committee and the local administration (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey
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    ). In addition, all religious literature produced in, published in (including on the internet) or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory censorship. When the State Committee does give permission to publish or import a work it also specifies how many copies can be produced or imported. All religious materials sold must have a sticker noting that they have State Committee approval. State officials have repeatedly denied that this represents censorship (see F18News 1 October 2015
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    ). The stickers from the State Committee cost religious communities or bookshop owners 0.02 Manats each. However, acquiring them can be difficult. Jehovah's Witnesses complained that between April and October 2016, the State Committee told them that it had run out of stickers. This meant that even publications the State Committee had given Jehovah's Witnesses permission to import could not be distributed without fear of punishment (see F18News 16 November 2016
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    ). Fined for religious literature, but fine overturned One case is known to have been brought to court in Baku's Sabail District, though it remains unclear if this was as a result of the raids. On 28 December 2016 Judge Rauf Ahmadov of Sabail District Court fined local resident Elnara Qasimova 2,000 Manats for selling religious items without the compulsory permission from the State Committee and the District administration, the court told Forum 18 on 16 January. Qasimova was fined under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2 ("Selling religious literature (printed or on electronic devices), audio and video materials, religious merchandise and products, or other religious informational materials, which have been authorised for sale under the Religion Law, outside specialised sale outlets established with the permission of the relevant government authority distributing religious literature, religious objects and information material without State Committee permission"). Punishments under Article 516.0.2 entails confiscation of the literature, merchandise and products or other materials concerned. Additional punishments under Article 516 are: for individuals fines of between 2,000 and 2,500 Manats; for officials fines of between 8,000 and 9,000 Manats; for organisations fines of between 20,000 and 25,000 Manats; and for foreigners and stateless persons fines of between 2,000 and 2,500 Manats with deportation from Azerbaijan (see F18News 2 June 2016
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    ). Qasimova's appeal against her punishment was handed to Baku Appeal Court on 11 January. On the morning of 17 January Judge Ilqar Murquzov partially upheld Qasimova's appeal. He cancelled the fine, but sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing, according to court records. The official who answered the phone of the Baku city representative of the State Committee on 17 January, who refused to give his name, refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions as to why officials raided the bookshops, confiscated religious literature or brought a case to punish Qasimova. Baku Muslim community raided State Committee officials, together with officers of the police, State Security Service (SSS) secret police and officials from Baku's Sabail District local administration raided a Shia Muslim community, State Committee officials told the local media on 8 December 2016. They claim to have been responding to information that the community in Badamdar in south-western Baku was functioning "in violation of procedures governing the activity of religious organisations". The Muslim community is not one of the four mosques the State Committee allows to function in Sabail District. The regime has a policy of closing mosques operating without state permission and without a leadership the State Committee has appointed. Sunni mosques are especially severely targeted for forcible closure (see eg. F18News 20 September 2016
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    ). During the raid, State Committee officials confiscated 59 religious books, 19 videotapes, 27 DVDs and 80 CDs which they claimed did not have the required State Committee permission. Officials added that they found unspecified items "which included elements of khurafat [prejudice or superstition]". They claimed to have then launched an investigation. Azerbaijan's legal database does not include the term "khurafat" in any law or legal document. It remains unclear why State Committee officials think the unspecified confiscated items are illegal. (END)
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  6. t least 26 shops and 6 homes raided for religious literature sold or distributed without having undergone compulsory censorship by or in places not licensed by State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. Some individuals already punished. UN Human Rights Committee concerned over religious censorship. Police and officials of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations have raided at least 26 shops and six homes in October and early November across Azerbaijan to seize religious literature being distributed without the compulsory state permission. Some book sellers have already been punished. All the literature seized from shops appears to have been Muslim. Not one State Committee official in Baku or in branches around the country, police officer or court would discuss these raids, literature seizures or punishments with Forum 18. The "Expertise" Department at the State Committee in Baku – which implements the state censorship – told Forum 18 on 16 November its head Nahid Mammadov was out of the office and no-one else could speak for the department. Asked about the many raids, the man simply said that everything done was "in the law". The man who answered the phone of State Committee official Aliheydar Zulfuqarov – who participated in raids on shops in the southern town of Masalli (see below) – put the phone down when Forum 18 introduced itself. The State Committee press office told Forum 18 its head, Yaqut Aliyeva, was away until 18 November and no-one else could speak to the press. Local officials of the State Committee where shops and homes were raided – in Lankaran, Masalli, Baku and Quba (which covers Khachmaz) – refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions. Complete religious literature censorship Religious literature and other materials can be sold or distributed only at specialised outlets which have been approved both by the State Committee and the local administration. In addition, all religious literature produced in, published in (including on the internet) or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory censorship. When the State Committee does give permission to publish or import a work it also specifies how many copies can be produced or imported. All religious materials sold must have a sticker noting that they have State Committee approval. State officials have repeatedly denied that this represents censorship (see F18News 1 October 2015
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    ). The stickers from the State Committee cost religious communities or bookshop owners 0.02 Manats each. However, acquiring them can be difficult. Jehovah's Witnesses complained that between April and the end of October, the State Committee told them that it had run out of stickers. This meant that even publications the State Committee had given Jehovah's Witnesses permission to import could not be distributed without fear of punishment. The State Committee does not publish any list of books it has banned, despite promises by the then State Committee Head in April 2013 that it would do so "soon" (see F18News 2 May 2013
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    ). The Old Testament, the 14-volume "Risale-i Nur" (Messages of Light) collection of writings by the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi, and several Jehovah's Witness publications were included on a police list of alleged "banned" religious literature, based on State Committee "expert analyses" (see F18News 6 May 2014
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    ). Police often seize these works in raids on homes. In a 23 August 2016 interview with the Trend news agency and reposted on the State Committee website, Mammadov of the State Committee's "Expertise" Department noted that his Committee regularly provides the Customs Service and the Police with lists of religious books it has banned. Mammadov added that no publishing house would print religious literature without State Committee approval because owners of such firms know the seriousness of the punishments for those who violate the law. Punishments Those who violate the state censorship of all religious literature face punishment. Prosecutors can bring cases under both the Criminal Code and Administrative Code. Criminal Code Article 167-2 punishes: "Production, sale and distribution of religious literature (paper and electronic formats), audio and video materials, religious items and other informational materials of religious nature with the aim of import, sale and distribution without appropriate authorisation". Punishments under Criminal Code Article 167-2 for first time offenders acting alone are a fine of between 5,000 and 7,000 Manats or up to two years' imprisonment. Such an "offence" by a group of people "according to a prior conspiracy", by an organised group, by an individual for a second time or by an official would attract a fine of between 7,000 and 9,000 Manats or imprisonment of between two and five years. Each 1,000 Manats is equivalent to 5,000 Norwegian Kroner, 540 Euros or 580 US Dollars. Administrative Code Article 516.0.2 punishes "Selling religious literature (printed or on electronic devices) audio and video materials, religious merchandise and products, or other religious informational materials, authorised for sale in an order established by the Law on Freedom of Religion of the Azerbaijan Republic, outside specialised sale outlets established with the consent of the relevant executive authority [State Committee and local administration]". Punishment under Article 516.0.2 entails confiscation of the literature, merchandise and products or other materials being the immediate object of the administrative violation and a fine of 2,000 to 2,500 Manats on individuals, 8,000 to 9,000 Manats on officials, 20,000 to 25,000 Manats on legal entities. If the person sentenced is not a citizen of Azerbaijan, they are also ordered deported (see F18News 2 June 2016
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    ). UN concern The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern about Azerbaijan's "censorship of religious material and prior authorization requirement for importing, exporting, distributing and publishing such material". The Committee also expressed concern about a wide range of other restrictions on exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief in its concluding observations to its review of Azerbaijan's record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, made public on 4 November (CCPR/C/AZE/CO/4). The Committee called on Azerbaijan to change the law to prevent such abuses. Baku raids Police and State Committee officials raided five shops in the Sadarak shopping centre in Baku's Qaradag District, the Interior Ministry noted on its website on 20 October. Officers and officials seized 287 books and seven discs, none of which had the required stickers from the State Committee to show that they had undergone the compulsory state censorship of religious literature. Cases under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2 were drawn up against owners of the shops. Also in Qaradag District, officers from the 10th Police Station raided homes of four residents of Lokbatan, Qandaf Huseynova, Parikhan Ibrahimova, Ilkin Ibrahimov and his brother Samir Ibrahimov. Officers seized 56 religious books which allegedly had no approval from the State Committee for distribution in Azerbaijan, the Interior Ministry noted on its website on 22 October. In a further raid in Qaradag District also noted by the Interior Ministry on 22 October, officers from the 38th Police Station raided a home in Sahil, a settlement along the Caspian coast south-west of Baku. Officers seized 159 religious books and 9 magazines from a Georgian citizen, Rizvan Hamidov. Police and State Committee officials raided six shops selling religious materials in Baku's Yasamal District on 26 October, the State Committee noted the same day. The State Committee said four of the shops did not have its permission to sell religious materials. Police seized copies of 16 different religious publications which were being sold without permission. The owner of one of the shops, Zohrab Bagirov, as well as a vendor named Samir Karimov, were interviewed and shown in television reports on the raids that evening. Police and officials of the State Committee raided nine further shops selling religious literature in Nasimi, Nizami, Sabunchu, Khatai and Surakhani Districts of Baku, the State Committee announced on 3 November. Eight of the nine shops were not specialised shops selling religious literature. Officers and officials seized 421 different items of religious literature, 13 DVDs and 5 CDs being sold in venues not licensed by the State Committee and the local administration and without the required State Committee stickers. Baku punishments Although the Interior Ministry noted that cases were being brought under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2 only following the raids on the five shops in the Sadarak shopping centre, investigations were said to be underway in all the other cases. Two individuals are known to have been fined in Baku's Yasamal District Court since early November under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2. Judge Akshin Afandiyev fined Ismayil Huseynov on 4 November, according to court records. However, the Judge's assistant refused to tell Forum 18 on 15 November what fine he had imposed on Huseynov. Judge Ramin Qurbanov fined Gulverdi Gulverdiyev 2,000 Manats on 10 November, his assistant told Forum 18 on 14 November. The assistant would not say for what literature the Judge had fined Gulverdiyev, nor whether he had appealed against the punishment. Raids in the north In the northern town of Khachmaz [Xacmaz], Police officers raided a stall at the market run by Hicran Talibova. Officers seized 97 religious books which they claim were being sold without the required state permission, the Interior Ministry website noted on 27 October. Officials at Khachmaz District Court refused to tell Forum 18 on 16 November if any case against Talibova has been brought to court and, if so, what the result was. On 3 November, Sheki [Säki] District Police raided the home of Yashar Aliyev in Turan, a village 50 kms (30 miles) from Sheki in northern Azerbaijan, the Interior Ministry noted on its website the following day. Officers seized 28 printed items of religious literature and two discs, claiming that the items did not have the required permission from the State Committee. Aliyev had been punished earlier for having religious books, the Interior Ministry noted. During a police raid on his home in March 2012, officers seized religious literature. The books seized were mainly by the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi (see F18News 30 March 2012
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    ). On 11 November 2016, Judge Kamran Suleymanov of Sheki District Court sentenced a Yashar Aliyev to 15 days' imprisonment under Administrative Code Article 510 ("hooliganism") and Article 535.1 ("failure to submit to a police order"), according to court records. A court official told Forum 18 on 16 November that this Aliyev was from Turan, but was unable to say if he was the same person as the man whose home was raided on 3 November. Raids in the south State Committee, Police and State Security Service (SSS) secret police officers conducted high-profile raids on two shops in the southern town of Masalli, news agencies noted on 10 November. The raids were led by the Masalli representative of the State Committee, Miryahya Badirov, and a State Committee official from Baku, Aliheydar Zulfuqarov. In one of the shops, Zahra, officials seized four books and six DVDs. In the other unidentified shop, officials seized 55 books, claiming that the shop was selling religious literature without the required State Committee licence. Masalli's Zahra religious goods shop – on the town's main street, Heydar Aliyev Avenue – is one of only 17 listed on the State Committee website as a "specialised religious goods shop". It lists the owner as Namiq Bayramov. Accompanying the officials and officers were camera crews from several news outlets, including ARB Cenub regional television station and APA news agency. They broadcast or posted videos online of the raids that evening. The footage shows Badirov inspecting books, books piled up on a desk in one of the shops while two police officers note down titles. The man who answered Badirov's phone on 15 November denied to Forum 18 that it was Badirov. His colleague in the office told Forum 18 the same day that he had not been present during the raids and only Badirov could explain why they had been conducted. On 11 November, Police and State Committee officials raided three shops selling religious literature in Lankaran in the far south of Azerbaijan close to the border with Iran, The State Committee noted on its site on 11 November. None of the three shops had the required permission from the State Committee or the local administration to sell religious literature. Officials seized 93 publications which did not have permission from the State Committee. Police prepared records of an offence against two of the shop owners. The third was given a verbal warning. "Preventive" conversations were held with all three. US-based Turkish imam's books banned Mammadov of the State Committee also noted in his 23 August interview that books by the US-based Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen had been banned for import into Azerbaijan before the Religion Law was amended in 2009. He claimed that their import "is not appropriate" as they proclaim the superiority of members of Gulen's movement over non-members. The Turkish government has accused Gulen of leading a movement called Hizmet (Service) and organising the failed coup in July 2016 (see F18News 13 October 2016
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    ). The Azerbaijani government has since moved against alleged Gulen supporters. Mammadov also claimed that the State Committee had banned other religious literature for inciting religious enmity or hatred, or proclaiming members of one religion superior to others. He claimed that among such banned works were Jehovah's Witness, Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, Shia Muslim and Hare Krishna publications, as well as works by Said Nursi. He did not identify any specific publications which allegedly violated the law. In May 2014 the State Committee told a Baku-based Sunni Muslim that Nursi's "Risale-i Nur" is "inappropriate for import in large quantities or publication, and has not objected to it being brought into the country only in special cases when there is no intention of propaganda (and on condition of no more than one copy)" (see F18News 3 June 2014
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    ). "Illegal" religious literature accusations in political cases Police and SSS secret police also use the possession or alleged possession of "illegal" religious literature as an excuse to bring charges in political cases. Following the mid-August arrests in Baku of Fuad Ahmadli, head of the Youth Wing of the Popular Front Party in Khatai District, and Faiq Amirov, and aide to the head of the party, officers claim to have found in their possession books and recordings by Gulen. Ahmadli's lawyer Asabali Mustafayev said that the books allegedly confiscated from his client were sent for an "expert analysis" in early November. He said the list included more than ten books, including works by Gulen and Nursi. "Usually an individual would not read books by both authors," Mustafayev told Forum 18 from Baku on 15 November. He complained that officials would not give him a copy of the list, allowing him only to look at it briefly. Human rights defenders told Forum 18 from Baku that Amirov declares himself an atheist and that police planted three Gulen books and eight discs in the boot of his car. Mustafayev told Forum 18 that cases against five further individuals arrested in Baku's Qaradaq District on 23 and 24 October for alleged "illegal" religious literature have been combined with the cases against Ahmadli and Amirov. (END)
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  7. 34 attendees at an "illegal" home meeting for worship on the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses were fined nearly a year's official minimum wage. The leader of a Sunni mosque in Baku forcibly closed in July has failed to overturn his fine. In mid-September the final seven of 34 Jehovah's Witnesses lost their appeals against fines of more than three months' average wages each. The 34 were punished for participating in a 23 March meeting for worship in a home in the north-western town of Gakh [Qax] which the authorities claim was "illegal". Similarly, on 23 September the leader of a Sunni mosque in the capital Baku failed in his attempt to overturn a similar fine for leading an "illegal" religious community. The authorities forcibly closed down the mosque as "illegal" in July. The 34 Jehovah's Witnesses were punished for attending a meeting for worship commemorating the Memorial of Christ's death, the most sacred annual observance for Jehovah's Witnesses. Police raided and halted the observance (see below). Of the 35 individuals, 34 were each fined 1,500 Manats (15,400 Norwegian Kroner, 830 Euros or 1,900 US Dollars). This is more than eleven times the minimum monthly wage, or three months' average wages for those in formal work. However, many of those fined are without formal work and for them the fines represent even more of a punishment, Forum 18 notes. The other individual was fined 1,800 Manats. The Sunni Omar bin Khattab Mosque in Qobustan in southern Baku, forcibly closed in July, was built on the Simirov family's private land and had functioned since 1990. The family have gone to court to try to protect the Mosque and plot of land from possible seizure (see below). The enforced closure is part of what appears to be the state's determination to close Sunni mosques across the country. The closure came just days after the state forcibly closed the Lezgin Mosque in Baku's Old City on the excuse that "repairs" were needed. Earlier in July, a Sunni Mosque in a village in the northern Quba Region was ordered to close for all activity except Friday prayers. A privately-built Sunni home mosque which had functioned for 20 years was closed in January in the town of Shirvan, south-west of Baku (see F18News 20 September 2016
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    ). Controls in defiance of international human rights commitments In defiance of its international human rights obligations, Azerbaijan insists that exercising freedom of religion or belief without permission from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations is illegal. Those who violate these strict controls – including by meeting for worship in homes or talking to others of their faith – are punished. Alongside this insistence that state permission is required, the State Committee refuses to process registration applications from many religious communities seeking legal status. Many communities which applied in 2009 - when the Religion Law was amended and mandatory re-registration was again imposed – are still waiting for the State Committee to process these applications (see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom surveyhttp://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2081). International human rights bodies have repeatedly called on Azerbaijan to revoke these restrictions. On 26 April the United Nations Human Rights Committee prepared questions to Azerbaijan ahead of the consideration of its record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 20 and 21 October in Geneva (CCPR/C/AZE/Q/4). The Committee asked Azerbaijan to "indicate any steps taken towards abolishing the requirement of registration for religious communities. Please also describe any measures taken to amend the 2009 religion law with a view to bringing it into full compliance with the Covenant." It also asked if the government has taken any steps to abolish the requirement that all Muslim communities be subject to the state-backed Caucasian Muslim Board. The government submitted its response to the Human Rights Committee on 14 July and it was made public on 9 August (CCPR/C/AZE/Q/4/Add.1). The government response failed to address these questions. It merely claimed that "the registration procedure is very simple" and blamed religious communities themselves when the State Committee failed to process their applications. The government insisted to the Human Rights Committee that Muslim communities must be subject to the Muslim Board because the law demands it. It did not explain why the law prevents Muslims from forming communities as they might like. Gakh: Religious meeting raided On 23 March, police officers in Gakh raided the home of Givi Khusishvili. They abruptly stopped the observance of the Memorial of Christ's death. Police officers showed what purported to be a court order authorising their search and confiscated personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles. Officers then took all the attendees to the local police station, interrogated them, and ordered them to write statements. Police drew up records of an "offence" under the Administrative Code against six of the men present. All were released soon after 9 pm. A 23 March statement on the Interior Ministry website claimed that Khusishvili had violated the procedure for organising and holding religious meetings. It claimed the meeting had therefore been "prohibited by law". It said that of the 56 people present, more than 44 were local, while 9 were from Zakatala [Zaqatala], the region north of Gakh. Five were from Baku. The Interior Ministry said the 19 DVDs, two videos and 219 items of religious literature seized during the search had not been approved by the State Committee (see F18News 2 June 2016
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    ). Gakh: Police protests overturn acquittals In early May, Police opened cases against 34 attendees under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. This punishes "A religious association operating outside of its registered legal address" with a fine for individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. Cases against 27 were opened by Gakh Police and against seven by Zakatala Police. Masim Adigozelov and Sahaddin Hasanov, two of the officers of Zakatala Police, refused to explain to Forum 18 on 5 October why they had opened the administrative cases against the Jehovah's Witnesses. Both put the phone down without responding to any questions. Cases against 27 attendees from Gakh were handed to Gakh District Court. However, the Court's Judge Atabay Kichibayov dismissed all the cases for lack of an "offence". Ten of them were heard and dismissed on 24 May, the remaining 17 on 27 May (see F18News 2 June 2016
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    ). Gakh District Police appealed against the May acquittals of the 27 attendees to Sheki Appeal Court. Between 28 July and 1 August, various Judges at Sheki Court of Appeal reversed the acquittals. The Court imposed convictions and fines of 1,500 Manats on 26 of the attendees, according to court records. Khusishvili, the home owner, was fined 1,800 Manats. Gakh: Seven further fines, upheld on appeal In early May, cases against the other seven were handed to Zakatala District Court, the home region of those individuals. However, in early June the Court handed these cases to Gakh District Court. Following the reversals of the acquittals and the punishments handed down to 27 attendees, Judge Kichibayov then considered the cases of the other seven, handed on from Zakatala District Court. On 4 August he found the seven – including Gulbahar Guliyeva, Konul Guliyeva, Yevdokia Sobko, Matanat Qurbanova and Vaqif Aliyev – guilty under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. He fined each of the seven 1,500 Manats, according to the subsequent Appeal Court verdicts seen by Forum 18. A court official told Forum 18 from Gakh on 5 October that Judge Kichibayov was not in the court building. She confirmed that he had fined the seven Jehovah's Witnesses but refused to say why they had been punished for exercising their freedom of religion or belief. She then put the phone down. All seven appealed to Sheki Appeal Court. At separate hearings under various Judges on 14 and 16 September, the attendees insisted that their right to meet with others for religious purposes is defended by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the Judges dismissed their appeals, according to the decisions seen by Forum 18. The man who answered the phone of Mehman Ismayilov, regional representative of the State Committee in Zakatala, refused to answer any of Forum 18's questions on 5 October. Gakh: Acquittals in other cases The same Judge Kichibayov at Gakh District Court who had initially acquitted the 27 Jehovah's Witnesses in May has also dismissed other cases against individuals accused of violating the strict controls on freedom of religion or belief. On 11 April police in Gakh detained Jehovah's Witnesses Gulara Huseynova and Rasmiyya Karimova for allegedly distributing religious publications. Jehovah's Witnesses insisted to Forum 18 that at the time the two women were simply walking on the street. The officers seized religious publications from their bags and took them to Gakh District Police Station. Later, the police charged both women under the Administrative Code. At a hearing on 12 May, Gakh District Court Judge Kichibayov acquitted both women. On 15 May, Jehovah's Witnesses Rahim Karimov and Luka Khusishvili talked to a man about the Bible for approximately 15 minutes in a market in Gakh. They had spoken to the man previously, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. After the two Jehovah's Witnesses said goodbye, police detained them and took them to Gakh District Police Station. They later charged the men under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. On 9 June, Gakh District Court Judge Kichibayov acquitted the two. Fine threats Police who detain individuals for speaking to others on the street about their faith – or who appear to be preparing to do so – often threaten them with prosecution under Administrative Code Article 515 and fines of 1,500 Manats or more. On 22 April police in Baku detained Jehovah's Witnesses Khayala Jafarova and Jaarey Suleymanova for talking to their neighbours about their faith. Officers took them to the 35th Police Station. The women were interrogated, ordered to write statements and to sign protocols. Police confiscated all their religious literature, including the Bible. One officer threatened that they would be charged under Administrative Code Article 515 and fined 1,500 Manats. They were released and ordered to return the next day. "The next day, the women were subjected to further verbal abuse and offered release if they would renounce their religion," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. On 24 July police in Baku detained Gulgaz Novruzova and Rakhila Shukurova "for speaking to people about the Bible in a public park", Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Officers took them to Khatai District Police Station. "The women were asked why they did not read the Koran and officers sneered at the name Jehovah." An Officer named Sadig threatened to fine the women 1,500 Manats. The women were ordered to write statements before being released. On 4 August, Jamila Gurbanova and three other female Jehovah's Witnesses planned to go from Barda to Yevlakh in central Azerbaijan to share their beliefs. On the bus, they decided to speak with other passengers about their faith and gave out several pieces of literature. One of the passengers was a State Committee official, who phoned the police. Officers took Gurbanova and the State Committee official to the police station. Officers asked Gurbanova why she preaches Christianity instead of the Koran. They confiscated her religious literature, even though it had the required stickers from the State Committee. Officers threatened to have Gurbanova fined under Administrative Code Article 515.0.4. She was released that evening, having written a statement. All religious literature produced in, published in or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory censorship. In addition, it can only be sold of distributed in places approved by the State Committee. All religious materials sold must have a sticker noting that they have State Committee approval. State officials have repeatedly denied that this represents censorship (see F18News 1 October 2015
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    ). Baku mosque leader's fine upheld On the afternoon of 23 September, Judge Vuqar Mammadov of Baku Appeal Court upheld the fine on Ahmad Simirov, according to court records. Simirov was leader of a Sunni Muslim Mosque on private land in Qobustan on the southern edge of Baku. Omar bin Khattab mosque was forcibly closed by the Police, State Security Service (SSS) secret police, Qaradag District administration officials and Anar Kazimov, Baku representative of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. Simirov had appealed against a fine of 1,500 Manats under Administrative Code Article 515.0.1, handed down by Qaradag District Court on 11 August (see F18News 20 September 2016
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    ). Administrative Code Article 515.0.1 punishes "A religious association's leader evading registration of the association with the relevant executive authority [State Committee]" with a fine for individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. "I told the appeal hearing that I have no job, and that I can be imam of a mosque on my own property," Simirov told Forum 18 from Qobustan on 6 October. "They told me I couldn't, even if it's my property." Simirov said it was "pointless" for him to appeal further against the fine through the Azerbaijani court system. But he added that he might bring a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In the meantime, he said he would have to pay the fine in instalments. "Otherwise they'll seize my property, sell it and take the money from that." Family goes to court to protect Mosque and land from seizure The Simirov family have brought a suit to court to try to prevent any seizure of the Mosque and land in Qobustan. The suit has been lodged against the head of Qaradag District Administration, the Caucasian Muslim Board and the State Committee. "They closed our Mosque and demand that we hand the Mosque over to them," Simirov told Forum 18. "We are seeking to prove that this is our property, that my father Uzeyir Simirov built the Mosque on his own property." The first hearing in the case took place on 4 October under Judge Tahira Asadova at Baku's Administrative-Economic Court No. 1. The case is due to resume in late October, Simirov added. (END)
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  8. Pope Francis visited Azerbaijan on Sunday, addressing the Catholic faithful and reaching out to Muslim people in the second largest Shiite Muslim nation. The pope spoke to religious leaders at a mosque in the capital city of Baku, and celebrated Mass with Azeri Catholics, who make up less than 1 percent of the country's population. A 2015 state department report on religious freedom around the world cited Azerbaijan's tightening of restrictions on some religions, including Christian denominations such as Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses, as cause for concern about religious discrimination. Pope Appoints Commission To Study Possibility Of Women As Deacons NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the pope visited Georgia to address Orthodox Christians before he stopped in Azerbaijan, but that he was "met with loud protests by orthodox hardliners" in the Georgian capital of Tiblisi. About 84 percent of Georgia's population is Orthodox Christian. Although the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, agreed to meet with the pope during his visit, so few people showed up for Mass in a Tiblisi stadium, most of the seats were empty. Sylvia reports for NPR's newscast unit: In a 2015 speech in the Philippines, Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people gathered in a Manila arena "God calls upon us to recognize the dangers threatening our own families and to protect them from harm," adding "We must be attentive to the new ideological colonization," according to an English transcript of his speech published by official Vatican Radio. The pope went on to explain his choice of words: In his homily on Sunday, the pope did not focus on the family as he spoke to Azerbaijan's Catholics. "Here," he said, "the faith, after the years of persecution, has accomplished wonders," and delivered a message about the duty of the faithful to serve. "Stay united always, living humbly in charity and joy; the Lord, who creates harmony from differences, will protect you," he said.
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  9. Baku. Mubariz Aslanov – APA. Chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations of AzerbaijanMubariz Gurbanli received Chairman of the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses Tony Brace and the association’s representative Mariano Makias Guzman on Sept. 14. During the meeting Gurbanli noted that the state-religion relations in Azerbaijan are regulated by the Constitution and the Law “On freedom of religion”. “96% of the Azerbaijani population is Muslims,” he said, stressing that religious tolerance is characteristic of the Azerbaijani society and is one of its important achievements. “In Azerbaijan special attention is paid to ensure freedom of conscience and faith, create an inter-religious communication bridge and expand cooperation between religious denominations,” the committee chairman added. Gurbanli said Yehovah's Witnesses has also a community in Azerbaijan, but it has not passed re-registration. The guests, in turn, informed about the activities of the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses in Europe. Deputy chairmen of the State Committee Seyavush Heydarov and Gunduz Ismayilov also attended the meeting.
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  10. The judge who upheld a large fine on a Jehovah's Witness for attending a worship meeting rejects the victim's argument that the fine violates the European Convention on Human Rights, telling Forum 18 his "decision is correct". Azerbaijan is obliged to uphold the Convention. An appeal court judge who rejected a victim's argument that fining individuals for participating in worship meetings violates the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms has defended his decision. "We believe our decision is correct and legal," Judge Mirbahaddin Huseynov of Sheki Appeal Court told Forum 18 on 2 June from the court. On 22 April he upheld a large fine on Jehovah's Witness Eldar Aliyev. Told that Azerbaijan – as a member of the Council of Europe – is obliged to respect rights to freedom of religion or belief set out in the Convention, Judge Huseynov put the phone down. The fine on Aliyev comes as officials continue to raid meetings for worship or religious study held away from state-registered places of worship. At least three police raids on Jehovah's Witness meetings in homes in different cities in 2016 have led to court cases, literature seizures and warnings. While 27 court cases which followed one raid ended in acquittals, others cases continue. Sunni Muslims who study using the works of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi have been pressured to stop study meetings. "They're under strong surveillance," one Muslim told Forum 18 from Baku on 31 May. "They're constantly warned not to meet, and if maybe five or six get together they immediately start to face pressure." Police have frequently raided meetings of Muslims who study Nursi's works. Five men were imprisoned for taking part in a meeting in April 2014 in a Baku home to study their faith which was broken up in an armed police raid. Two of the five - Ismayil Mammadov and Eldeniz Hajiyev - remain in prison (see F18News 27 April 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2173). Meanwhile, in April and May police again prevented Muslims from praying in the yard around the Lezgin Mosque (also known as the Ashur Mosque) in Baku's Icherisheher (Old City). "They didn't stop people praying around the mosque at Friday prayers on 27 May, but they did so in the weeks before that," one mosque member told Forum 18 from Baku on 1 June. The Sunni mosque is small and is often too full for all those wishing to attend Friday prayers to find space inside. The Lezgin Mosque has repeatedly been threatened with closure and from whose congregation five men – including the Imam – were jailed as prisoners of conscience (see F18News 8 October 2015
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    ). Mingachevir: religious meeting raided On the afternoon of 9 January, police officers abruptly stopped a Jehovah's Witness meeting held in Aliyev's home in the north-western town of Mingachevir. Bursting into the house, officers shouted at the more than 20 people present, demanding they stop the meeting, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Police officers told those present that the meeting was "unlawful" and that a permit was required to hold such meetings. Representatives of the regional administration, the city and the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations participated in the raid. Officers confiscated from those present personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles. The State Committee official stated that the Bible is a banned publication and must therefore be confiscated. The Old Testament, Nursi's 14-volume "Risale-i Nur" (Messages of Light) collection of writings, and several Jehovah's Witness publications were included on a police list of alleged "banned" religious literature, based on State Committee "expert analyses" (see F18News 6 May 2014
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    ). The State Committee does not publish any list of books it has banned, despite promises by the then State Committee Head in April 2013 that it would do so "soon" (see F18News 2 May 2013
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    ). After seizing religious literature from those present at the Mingachevir Jehovah's Witness meeting, the police took all attendees to the town's Police Station, where officers questioned and ordered them to write statements. The police held them until 10.30 pm, after having deprived them of their liberty for six hours. Major Elkhan Farajov of Mingachevir Police Public Safety Department drew up a record of an "offence" against Aliyev under Article 299.0.2 of the then Administrative Code (Article 515.0.2 of the new Administrative Code – see below), according to case materials. This Article punishes "Violating rules established by legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies" with fines on individuals of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats. The case was then handed to court. Mingachevir: fine and action against parents On 3 March, Mingachevir City Court Judge Huseyn Mirzaliyev convicted Aliyev and fined him 1,500 Manats (8,400 Norwegian Kroner, 900 Euros or 1,000 US Dollars). The average monthly wage for employees in the first three months of 2016 was 485 Manats, according to the State Statistical Committee. The fine therefore represents more than three months wages for employees, though far more for those (like Aliyev) without formal work. On 22 April, Judge Huseynov of Sheki Appeal Court rejected Aliyev's appeal, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. The Judge dismissed Aliyev's arguments that the punishments had violated his rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion for all, "either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his [sic] religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance". After the raid, police officers summoned parents and children of the participants of the religious meeting. Police informed one of the parents, Arzu Ibrahimova, that they had issued a record of an administrative "offence" against her. They added that all materials under Article 51 of the old Administrative Code, which punished "Failure by parents and guardians to fulfil upbringing and educational responsibilities", were transferred to the Commission on Cases and Protection of Juveniles. Gakh: religious meeting raided, administrative charges On 23 March, police officers in the north-western town of Gakh [Qax] raided the home of Givi Khusishvili. They abruptly stopped the observance of the Memorial of Christ's death, the most sacred religious event of the year for Jehovah's Witnesses. Police officers showed what purported to be a court order authorising their search and confiscated personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles, Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18. Officers then took all the attendees to the local police station, interrogated them, and ordered them to write statements. Police drew up records of an "offence" under the Administrative Code on dozens of those present. All were released soon after 9 pm. A 23 March statement on the Interior Ministry website claimed that Khusishvili had violated the procedure for organising and holding religious meetings. It claimed the meeting had therefore been "prohibited by law". It said that of the 56 people present, more than 44 were local, while 9 were from Zakatala [Zaqatala], the region north of Gakh. Five were from Baku. The Interior Ministry said the 19 DVDs, two videos and 219 items of religious literature seized during the search had not been approved by the State Committee. Many acquittals, but other cases in court Cases under Administrative Code Article 515 against 27 attendees were handed to Gakh District Court. However, the Court's Judge Atabay Kichibayov dismissed all the cases for lack of an "offence", his assistant told Forum 18 from the court on 27 May. Ten of them were heard and dismissed on 24 May, the remaining 17 on 27 May. "We are pleased that Judge Atabek Kichibayov pronounced just and legal decisions to halt the cases for lack of an administrative offence," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 29 May. The same Judge Kichibayov acquitted a Jehovah's Witness in a case in May 2014 (see F18News 3 June 2014http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1964). In the case of a former imam in October 2015, the Judge gave an official warning rather than a fine for "illegal" religious meetings (see F18News 26 January 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2142). However, police handed to Zakatala District Court the records of an "offence" against the participants who had come down for the meeting from Zakatala. "We are still awaiting these hearings," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Zakatala District Court said one case under Administrative Code Article 515 – against a woman named Qurbanova – has already been handed to court and has been assigned to Judge Arif Ismayilov. Court officials refused to give Forum 18 any other details on 31 May. Records of an "offence" against the participants from Baku were handed to the local police in the district of the capital where they live. Sahil: religious meeting raided On 17 January, police officers burst into the home of Marina Asadova in Sahil, a settlement on the Caspian Sea south-west of Baku. They abruptly halted a meeting for worship. Officers took Asadova to the local Police Station. Once the officers verified that religious publications they had seized were labelled with State Committee censorship stamps, they took Asadova back to her home. The police recorded the identity of all the Jehovah's Witnesses who had been present before releasing them. The police warned Asadova not to host such religious meetings again. Police across Azerbaijan frequently raid Jehovah's Witness worship meetings. Following a 14 November 2015 police raid on a meeting in the home of Nijat Panahov in Gyanja [Gäncä], 12 of those present were each fined 2,000 Manats. In December 2015, the city's Appeal Court rejected all 12 appeals (see F18News 16 December 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2134). New Administrative Code The new Administrative Code entered into force 1 March 2016. Proposed by President Ilham Aliyev, it had been adopted by the Milli Mejlis (Parliament) on 29 December 2015 and signed into law by the President on 15 February 2016. The new Code was officially published two days later in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan". Article 299 of the old Code was transferred almost unchanged into Article 515 of the new Code. It retains the same high fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief (see full text below). Article 300 of the old Code was shortened. Parts 1 and 3 appear as Article 516 of the new Code. The new Article 516 retains the punishment at the previous level for sending individuals abroad for religious education without State Committee permission and selling approved religious literature and materials away from approved places where they are allowed to be sold - though it introduces a new additional punishment of deportation when these "offences" are conducting by those who are not citizens (see full text below). Parts 2 and 4 of the old Article 300 are now "crimes". The new Article 516 therefore removes the administrative punishments for religious "propaganda" by people who are not citizens and for distributing uncensored religious literature and materials. Criminal Code Article 167-2 – adopted in December 2011 - punishes: "Production, sale and distribution of religious literature, audio and video materials, religious items and other informational materials of religious nature with the aim of import, sale and distribution without appropriate authorisation". December 2015 amendments to the Criminal Code added a new Article 168-1, which punishes "violation of the procedure for religious propaganda and religious ceremonies". Part 1 punishes the conducting of Islamic rites by a citizen who has received their education abroad with one year's imprisonment or a fine of between 2,000 and 5,000 Manats. Part 2 punishes "religious propaganda by foreigners and stateless persons" with imprisonment of between one and two years. Either of these "crimes" committed repeatedly or by prior agreement among a group of people is punishable by between two and five years' imprisonment (see F18News 16 December 2015http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2134). Article 515. Violation of the procedure for creating or running religious organisations 515.0. Violation of the procedure for creating or running religious organisations: 515.0.1. Religious association's leader evading registration of the association with the relevant executive authority [State Committee]; 515.0.2. Violating rules established by legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies; 515.0.3. Clergy and members of religious associations holding special meetings for children and youth, organising labour, literary, or other clubs and groups unassociated with holding religious ceremonies; 515.0.4. Religious association operating outside of its registered legal address; 515.0.5. Religious association carrying out activities not in accordance with its statute – entails fines of 1,500 to 2,000 Manats on individuals, 7,000 to 8,000 Manats on officials. Article 516. Violation of legislation on freedom of religion 516.0. Violation of legislation on freedom of religion: 516.0.1. Sending citizens abroad to study in religious educational establishments, exchange of religious ministers without prior consent of the relative executive authority [State Committee]; 516.0.2. Selling religious literature (printed or on electronic devices) audio and video materials, religious merchandise and products, or other religious informational materials, authorised for sale in an order established by the Law on Freedom of Religion of the Azerbaijan Republic, outside specialised sale outlets established with the consent of the relevant executive authority [State Committee and local administration] - entails confiscation of the literature, merchandise and products or other materials being the immediate object of the administrative violation and imposition of penalty in the amount of 2,000 to 2,500 Manats on individuals, 8,000 to 9,000 Manats on officials, 20,000 to 25,000 Manats on legal entities; imposition of penalty in the amount of 2,000 to 2,500 Manats and administrative deportation of foreigners and stateless persons from the Azerbaijan Republic. (END) Source:
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  11. APRIL 12, 2016 AZERBAIJAN On March 23, 2016, police officers in Gakh abruptly stopped the observance of the Memorial of Christ’s death—the most sacred religious event of the year for Jehovah’s Witnesses. The event was being held in a private home. Police officers showed what purported to be a court order authorizing their search, and they confiscated personal copies of religious publications, including Bibles. Officers then took all the attendees to the local police station, interrogated them, and ordered them to write statements. All attendees were released after police drew up protocols on six male Witnesses, which could lead to charges under the Administrative Violations Code.

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