For Immediate Release
September 22, 2010
Azerbaijan denies reregistration for Jehovah’s Witnesses, creating potential for further human rights violations
BAKU, Azerbaijan–On July 16, 2010, the Sabail District Court dismissed a claim by Jehovah’s Witnesses challenging the refusal of the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations to grant reregistration under the recently amended Law on Freedom of Religious Beliefs.
In November 2009, Jehovah’s Witnesses applied for reregistration in compliance with the new legislation. In late February 2010, they learned that the State Committee had refused that application on a technicality, an alleged failure to include necessary documents. Actually, the Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Baku had made efforts to provide the documentation a number of times in harmony with the requirements for reregistration and attempted to bring this fact to the attention of the State Committee. Nevertheless, the State Committee informed the Witnesses that the Religious Community would have to be voluntarily dissolved, and reapplication for registration would have to be made, with no guarantee that it would be granted.
Now Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan are left in a state of uncertainty. Although they have been registered in Baku continuously since 1999, they fear that as a religious minority, they will experience an increase of antagonistic behavior against them. The recent hostile actions by the police, which appear to be condoned by the courts in Azerbaijan, give the Witnesses basis for such concern. The State Committee’s delay and ultimate denial of reregistration could embolden the police to increase their efforts to disturb the Witnesses’ peaceful meetings for worship and interfere with their public ministry as well as prevent the importation and distribution of Bible literature. (See the March 10, 2010, press release “Azerbaijan treats distribution of religious literature as a crime,” and the May 27, 2010, press release “Courts in Azerbaijan condone unlawful actions by police.”)
The State Committee’s refusal to reregister Jehovah’s Witnesses confirms what Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, observed in a recent report on Azerbaijan: “The obligation for all religious communities to re-register – if they wish to continue to legally exist – appears to be quite superfluous and should in any event be less cumbersome.”
In its decision, the Sabail District Court completely ignored recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia (June 10, 2010, no. 302/02) and Tebieti Mühafize Cemiyyeti and Israfilov v. Azerbaijan (October 8, 2009, no. 37083/03). In both cases, the Court condemned the State actions as arbitrary and unjustified violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.
On August 13, 2010, Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed the trial court’s decision in the Baku Court of Appeal. They are hopeful the domestic courts will uphold the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan to carry out their peaceful worship without restriction.
In Belgium: European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses
Telephone: +32 2 782 0015
In Britain: European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses
Telephone: +44 208 906 2211
In the United States: J. R. Brown, Office of Public Information
Telephone: +1 718 560 5000
Gregory Allen, Associate General Counsel
Telephone: +1 845 306 0711