Friday, May 14, 2010

Azerbaijan Fines JW's For Distributing Literature

*FYI* this article was posted on the jw-media site a couple days ago in case anyone hasn't read it yet...

For Immediate Release
May 12, 2010

Azerbaijan — More fines for peaceful distribution of literature

AGSTAFA, Azerbaijan—Three women were fined 200 AZN ($250 US) each for distributing educational religious literature in the City of Agstafa, in the west of Azerbaijan. When the women later explained to a presiding judge that they are allowed to express their religious convictions under the European Convention on Human Rights, he informed them the Convention did not apply.

On April 27, 2010, Shafiga Mammadova, Salatin Iskandarova, and Gulnaz Hasanova were on their way home to Baku from attending a religious assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in neighboring Georgia. During their stopover in Agstafa, the women had conversations with different individuals about their religious convictions, providing those who were interested with copies of Bible-based literature in the form of small tracts. Later in the afternoon, the three women were shocked when police officers came to the home of the local friend they were staying with, confiscated their personal religious literature, and arrested them. The women were held at the police station for approximately six hours, not being released until after midnight. After returning to the police station the next morning, the women were taken to Agstafa District Court, where they were each ordered to pay a fine of 200 AZN ($250 US) for distributing religious literature. At this point the women related what they understood to be their legal right but those rights were denied.

Earlier this year the Khatai District Court in Baku ordered two of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Famil Nasirov and Amina Mammadova, to pay the same 200 AZN fine under Article 300.0.2 of the Administrative Violations Code. In their case, the Baku Appeal Court upheld the district court’s conviction of Nasirov, confirming that the literature in his possession was imported with the permission of the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations. The Court ruled, however, that the literature was to be distributed only within the religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mammadova’s appeal has not yet been heard.

Although Azerbaijani authorities claim to promote freedom of religion, the Law on Freedom of Religion is being used by the authorities to violate, rather than protect, believers’ fundamental rights and freedoms. Unless the Azerbaijan government lives up to its commitments under various international conventions, the approximately 1,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan are fearful that they will continue to be ordered to pay fines for using printed literature when they express their faith.