|For Immediate Release
February 19, 2009
Freedom of worship under attack in Azerbaijan
as illegal police raids continue
BAKU, Azerbaijan—Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan continue to endure illegal police raids on their meetings and subsequently spend hours of detention in police stations despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of worship.
The latest raid happened on January 29, 2009, when more than ten policemen disrupted a religious meeting held in Baku, a city where Jehovah’s Witnesses are officially registered. Five in attendance were brought to the police station, where they were detained for almost three hours. Another raid happened around 12 noon on January 18, 2009, when police near Ganja, accompanied by a man who identified himself as a representative of the local State Committee for Religious Affairs, burst into a private residence where a small group of people were reading and studying the Bible. Nine persons were seized and taken to the police station for questioning. Four were detained for more then six hours. During this raid, police and local officials justified their actions by claiming that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not registered in Ganja, even though Azerbaijani law does not require official registration for people to meet together in private homes.
Such incidents appear to be part of a steady decline in freedom of worship in Azerbaijan during the past year. On November 5, 2008, police raided a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Baku. Twelve were present and two were taken to the police station, where they were questioned for over five hours. On that occasion the police confiscated 23 books and 10 videocassettes to check whether the literature was approved by the State Committee for the Work with Religious Associations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are seeking legal redress that will protect freedom of worship, stop the continuing interference at their peaceful meetings, and end the de facto censorship of their Bible-based literature. Jehovah’s Witnesses also hope that authorities will build on the religious tolerance that already exists in Azerbaijan by upholding the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Article 48 of which states: “Everyone has the right to define his/her attitude to religion, to profess, individually or together with others, any religion . . . and spread one’s beliefs concerning religion.”
Contact in USA: Gregory Allen, Associate General Counsel Telephone: +845-306-0711
Contact in Europe: Luca Toffoli, European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses
Telephone 32 2 782 0015