Azerbaijan shows toleration for Jehovah's Witnesses


Although from time to time police forbid their meeting in private apartments

Sputnik Azerbaijan, 6 August 2017


Rights of individual representatives of the religious community of Jehovah's Witnesses are violated, a representative of the community, Kirill Stepanov, told Sputnik Azerbaijan. He said that despite this, on the whole they do not face persecution in Azerbaijan.


"We wish to note with pleasure that at the present time the situation is much improved. In the course of eight years, Jehovah's Witnesses in Baku have conducted their meetings for worship without hindrance.  In addition, in the past few years the congregation has rented larger premises for conducting religious events," Stepanov noted.


He added with regret that despite the 21st article of the law "On freedom of religious confession," which guarantees Azerbaijani citizens the right to conduct religious meetings in private homes and apartments, sometimes personnel of law enforcement agencies interfere in the peaceful worship of Jehovah's Witnesses, thereby violating their rights.


For example, on 1 January 2017, personnel of the Barda police department, without a court decision, burst into a home in which a peaceful religious meetings was being conducted and they interrupted the ritual. All those in attendance were arrested and escorted to the police station, where they were subjected to insults. In the end, by a decision of the Barda district court, the owner of the house was fined 1,500 manats.


And on 9 January 2017, personnel of the Mingiachevir police department, also without a court decision, burst into the house of one of the believers where a religious meeting was being conducted, interrupting in the middle. All in attendance also were taken to the precinct and after being detained for several hours they were released. The local court also fined the host of the apartment 1500 manats. But because he was unable to find the money to pay the fine, the host of the apartment was assessed an additional penalty in the form of 240 hours of public work.


Stepanov added that similar situations arose earlier also, more precisely, in 2014.


However a representative of the community said that residents of Azerbaijan have also been known for their toleration and patience, and also for their interest in spiritual matters. And this is also true with respect to Jehovah's Witnesses.


"Very many read, with pleasure and interest, religious publications published by us, they study the Bible, and they attend our meetings. Of course, there are those who do not share our views or beliefs, but, as befits a tolerant society, this does not translate into any kind of discrimination or aggression," Stepanov said.


He added that at the present time, meetings are being attended by about 3,000 persons. For example, in 2017, the Evening of Memorial of the Death of Jesus Christ, which Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the world mark every year, was attended in Azerbaijan by 2,911 persons.


Meanwhile, according to the head of the State Committee Department for Work with Religious Organizations, Aligeidar Zulfugrov, the religious community of Jehovah's Witnesses was registered in Azerbaijan in 2002. It has over 1,400 activists. At the present, most of the adherents of the Jehovah's Witnesses are found in Sumgait, Ganja, Barda, and Mingiachevir.


It should be noted that in April of this year, the Russian Supreme Court granted the request of the Russian Ministry of Justice and issued a decision for the immediate termination of the activity of all 395 divisions of Jehovah's Witnesses in the RF, citing the presence of elements of extremism. Commenting on this decision,, Zulfugarov noted that elements of extremism have never been observed in the activity of this religious community in Azerbaijan.


At the same time, Stepanov described how Jehovah's Witnesses in various countries, including from Azerbaijan also, sent millions of letters to the president of Russia and also to a number of other officials, with the request to show cooperation and not permit the violation of the rights of peaceful believers. (tr. by PDS, posted 7 September 2017)

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