This is one of the main findings in a new report on freedom of religion or belief in the country that the NHC publishes in co-operation with Forum 18 News Service. The report is one of a series of NHC reports and Policy Papers documenting Azerbaijan’s human rights violations.
The latest report documents extensive use of state regulations to stifle the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. It also documents a culture of impunity for officials who disregard Azerbaijan’s international human rights obligations.
– The report will enable readers to see behind the tolerance facade to understand the intentional and systemic nature of the government’s violations of freedom of religion or belief and linked fundamental human rights, says Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, deputy secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
– Azerbaijan is not a state where the rule of law exists. It is a country where officials can and do act to violate the state’s international human rights obligations without being held accountable for this. This has serious long-term consequences for the country’s people, says John Kinahan, deputy editor of Forum 18 News Service.
The report includes a range of recommendations, addressing both the government of Azerbaijan who have the primary responsibility to initiate reforms that will improve the situations, as well as the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the UN and the EU.
– Initiate legal reviews and reforms in order to ensure that the Religion Law and relevant provisions in other laws do not infringe international human rights norms on freedom of religion or belief;
– Implement in full the recommendations of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the Venice Commission;
– Abolish the compulsory state registration system, which makes all exercise of freedom of religion or belief ‒ including the legal right to exist ‒ dependent on state permission;
– Stop raiding, prosecuting and punishing groups of people exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief;
– Abolish the highly restrictive censorship regime, including pre-publication, bookshop, photocopy shop and postal censorship;
– Abolish the ban on praying outside mosques, and stop closure of places of worship;
– Abolish the requirement for all mosques to belong to and be controlled by the Caucasian Muslim Board;
– Stop jailing prisoners of conscience exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, including the right to conscientious objection to military service;
– Stop arbitrary deportations of foreign citizens exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief;
– Stop repeatedly imposing ever more restrictive “legal” controls on people’s exercise of their right to freedom of religion or belief.
The Council of Europe, the OSCE, the UN and the EU should:
– Address these issues in relevant forums and meetings, and in particular:
– Urge Azerbaijan’s authorities to implement in full their international human rights obligations;
– Link Azerbaijan implementing its human rights obligations, including on freedom of religion or belief, with the implementation of co-operation and trade agreements;
– Insist that implementing freedom of religion or belief obligations is a non-negotiable foundation for all inter-religious dialogue and co-operation with states.