“Space for the exercising of fundamental rights, such as the freedom of assembly and of expression, have been highly restricted.”
The US State Department has released its yearly, global report on religious freedoms. “Contact.az” writes that, in the section on Azerbaijan, it is mentioned that though citizens have the right to express and practice their beliefs according to the constitution, the government has severely limited the freedoms of members of religious groups that it considers ‘unconventional.’
“Officials have restricted fundamental rights such as those of freedom of assembly and expression, and spaces for both religious and citizen groups have been restricted”, the document states.
The report mentions a lack of reliable numbers, but reports that some observers put the number of political prisoners and religious activists at 52 in 2014, and at 46 in 2015.
Gathering areas for members of minority groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Salafis, including those suspected of being followers of Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet movement, are frequently raided.
In the US State Department report it is mentioned that in the month of November of 2014, police forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs entered Nardaran village, and arrested the leader of the “Muslim Unity” Movement Taleh Baghirzade and 14 of his followers on accusations of extremism. “For four days, MIA police restricted movement in and out of the city and searched all of the houses. According to reports circulated by the media, the MIA detained approximately 38 people, the majority of whom were then released without being accused. According to the government’s statement, these measures were undertaken in response to perceived threats to national security by the “Muslim Unity” movement. Despite this, some democratic and human rights activists claim that these accusations were bogus.”
The report mentions other problems faced by religious groups in Azerbaijan today, including but not limited to: difficulty in registering religious groups with the State Committee on work with religious groups and limitations on the importing, distribution and sale of religious literature in the country.
According to US government information dating from July of 2015, Azerbaijan’s population is 9.8 million. According to information from the State Committee on work with religious groups, Azerbaijan’s population is 96% Muslim, 65% of which are Shi’a, 31% are Sunni. 4% of the country belong to the Russian and Georgian orthodox churches, in addition to other Molokans, Christians, Jews and Baha’is.