Society 20:32 28/05/2015

Forum 18: Old Testament is banned religious literature in Azerbaijan

On 14 July Azerbaijan's Supreme Court is due to hear a challenge by Kamran Abdiyev to a fine of 18 months' average wages, for distributing religious literature which has not undergone the compulsory state censorship. "Kamran Abdiyev has no lawyer, and will be representing himself at the hearing," Judge Gulzar Rzayeva told Forum 18 News Service.

According to the article, the five Sunni Muslims are among eight prisoners of conscience being held at the National Security Ministry (NSM) secret police Investigation Prison in Baku to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Two of the other prisoners of conscience are Jehovah's Witnesses women and the eighth prisoner is a Shia Muslim. State censorship of religious texts is strictly applied and the Old Testament, the writings of Islamic theologian Said Nursi, and some Jehovah's Witness texts are on a police list of banned religious literature. 

The article reads that in the latest extension of the powers of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, anyone organizing foreign travel for religious purposes, including pilgrimages abroad, now requires a license from the State Committee of Azerbaijan.

In summer 2014, 244 Muslim books were confiscated from Abdiyev: "He was acting as a bookseller illegally," the Azerbaijani official – who would not give his name – told Forum 18. "We found that they represented fundamentalist, politicized Islam and propagated inter-religious discord. By our criteria they are banned." But the official was unable to explain why Abdiyev had been punished for distributing uncensored religious books and not on charges for alleged "extremism."

The State Committee official readily acknowledged to Forum 18 that censorship of religious literature exists. “We wouldn't be working here if censorship was abolished."

Following the State Committee "expert analysis," a case was instituted against Abdiyev under Criminal Code of Azerbaijan, Article 167-2.1 which punishes: "Production, sale and distribution of religious literature, religious items and other informational materials of religious nature with the aim of import, sale and distribution without appropriate authorization." Punishments for first time offenders acting alone are a fine of 5,000 to 7,000 manats (nearly $4700 -6700) or up to two years' imprisonment.

Forum 18 writes that the same Judge Rzayeva had rejected the last appeal of Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector and former prisoner of conscience Kamran Mirzayev at the Supreme Court on 24 February. He is now intending to lodge an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, where three other Azerbaijani Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors have already appealed over their earlier imprisonment.

In spite of Azerbaijan's Council of Europe obligations by 2003 to adopt a law on alternative service there are no signs that the government of Azerbaijan has any intention of keeping this promise. Asked why she had not upheld Mirzayev's right not to be punished for rejecting military service and asking to do an alternative civilian service, in line with Azerbaijan's Constitution, Judge Rzayeva replied: "We don't have a law on alternative service."

It is also noted that Azerbaijan's Cabinet of Ministers has imposed a new requirement for organizers of religious tours abroad. For this, they must gain a license from the State Committee of Azerbaijan.

Related:

In Azerbaijan, Jehovah's Witnesses can face up to five years in prison for distributing religious literature

USCIRF: Religious repression in Azerbaijan increased in 2014; 11 members of religious groups imprisoned

Forum 18: Restrictions on freedom of religion in Nakhijevan are far tighter than in Azerbaijan

 



Source Panorama.am
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