Fwd: Azerbaijan, CoE and freedom of religion

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Subject: Fwd: Azerbaijan, CoE and freedom of religion

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Fwd: Azerbaijan, CoE and freedom of religion

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From: Avaz Hasanov <avaz@azeurotel.com>

----- Original Message -----
From: Felix Corley <fcorley@mail.ndirect.co.uk>
To: <habarlar-l@usc.edu>


Issue 5, Article 26, 29 May 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion
in communist and post-communist lands.

Monday 29 May 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

As Azerbaijan's application to join the Council of Europe is about to
be considered, officials of the Council's secretariat in Strasbourg
have told Keston News Service that the reason the many problems in the
area of religious liberty in Azerbaijan have been glossed over in the
rapporteur's report on Azerbaijan's application is that no religious
group in the country informed the Council of any problems.

This is despite the well-documented delays in the granting of official
registration to many communities belonging to religious minorities,
the ban on registering Muslim communities independent of the
state-sanctioned Muslim Board, raids on religious meetings and the
detention of religious leaders, the refusal to return places of
worship confiscated during the Soviet period, dismissal of religious
activists from their jobs, the continuing censorship of all religious
literature that religious groups wish to publish or import, the
confiscation of religious literature at customs, government meddling
in the internal affairs of religious communities, and the
publicly-expressed desire by the official in charge of registration at
the Justice Ministry in Baku that he would like the law on religion
tightened up to ban unregistered religious activity.

The 41-member Council of Europe declares that it "promotes democracy
and human rights continent-wide". Azerbaijan, which currently has
guest status in the organisation, applied for membership on 13 July
1996. The Council's Parliamentary Assembly will examine Azerbaijan's
application at its plenary session in Strasbourg from 26 to 30 June.

The report, "Azerbaijan's application for membership of the Council of
Europe" (Document 8748, issued on 23 May), compiled for the Council's
Political Affairs Committee by the rapporteur JACQUES BAUMEL, a French
politician of the European Democratic Group, contains just one
paragraph on freedom of religion (Para. 84). This reads in full: "At
the meeting with representatives of the different faiths, the latter
all confirmed that freedom of worship was respected in Azerbaijan. The
Churches practised their activities freely, building churches,
celebrating religious holidays, religious instruction, visiting
prisons, etc. The Armenian Church has not been banned, but because of
the mass exodus of the Armenian population, it is not active. Islamic
extremism was condemned by the representatives present as a
confrontational movement bent on setting up a society based wholly on
Islamic fundamentalism."

This report was approved unanimously by the Political Affairs
Committee at its meeting in Dublin on 17 May and the meeting
recommended for approval the country's application to join the
Council, subject to the acceptance of a series of commitments on
Council of Europe conventions, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, domestic
law and human rights. However, Baumel's report laid down no specific
commitments in the area of religious liberty.

The report's bland assessment of the state of religious liberty in
Azerbaijan is based on a meeting with representatives from a variety
of religious groups held in Baku several years ago, officials of the
Council's secretariat told Keston from Strasbourg on 26 May. "Since no
group reported any particular problems in the course of the meeting,
the issue of freedom of religion was not followed up on later visits
to Baku," one official declared. "The Azerbaijani government made no
commitments in the area of freedom of religion because it was not
asked to."

Asked what steps the Council's representatives had taken to find out
the situation for religious believers, the official stressed that they
had frequently visited Baku on well-publicised visits and the hotel
where they were staying was also well publicised. "We received
petitions from many, many people," the official told Keston, "we had
phone calls from people in our hotel room and people delivered
petitions. We had petitions from people who were beaten in police
stations. People who wanted to get in touch with us succeeded, but no
religious believers did so."

Keston requested an interview from Baumel on 26 May, but his office in
Paris declared that he was busy with meetings and unavailable for an
interview, but suggested Keston fax a set of questions, which it did
the same day. However, Keston has received no response to its enquiry
as to why Baumel's report failed to address Azerbaijan's religious
liberty violations.

However, another official at the Council secretariat told Keston from
Strasbourg on 26 May that the Council's Human Rights Committee is
aware of problems in the area of religious liberty in Azerbaijan,
adding that a rapporteur GEORGES CLERFAYT has drawn up a separate
document on human rights that includes information about religious
liberty problems. The official told Keston that the report is due to
be released sometime in the week beginning 29 May.

Speaking to a wide range of representatives of religious organisations
in Azerbaijan in late March, Keston found support for Azerbaijan's
accession. Although some representatives believed that the impact such
membership of the Council of Europe would have on the human rights
picture in general and the religious liberty situation in particular
would be only limited, all believed that membership could only do
good. Some pointed out that membership would allow religious believers
who felt their rights had been violated to take their cases to the
European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, as believers have done
in other former Soviet states, such as Moldova and Russia.

State officials, on the other hand, rejected suggestions that if
Azerbaijan accedes to the Council of Europe it would result in any
changes in the legal framework on religion or the way state bodies
interact with religious communities in the country. (END).

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.

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