US Department of State States Restrictions of Religious Rights in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, Baku / corr Tre K.Ramazanova / US Department of State spread report on 15 September, which stated the restriction of religious rights in Azerbaijan.

"The Constitution provides that persons of all faiths may choose and practice their religion without restriction; however, there were some abuses and restrictions," the document stressed.

According to he report, there was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report.

Some religious groups reported delays in and denials of registration. As in previous years, there continued to be some limitations upon the ability of groups to import religious literature.

Most religious groups met without government interference; however, local authorities monitored religious services, and officials at times harassed and detained members of "nontraditional" religious groups.

A number of legal provisions enable the Government to regulate religious groups, including a requirement in the law on religious freedom that religious organizations, including individual congregations of a denomination, be registered by the State Committee on Work with Religious Associations (SCWRA), the document said

During the reporting period, several groups asserted that the sometimes failed to rule on registration applications in a timely manner, and some groups complained that the SCWRA or local officials selectively made the application process difficult or impossible for "nontraditional" communities.

Local or SCWRA officials often raised particular obstacles to Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and members of Assemblies of God who attempted to register, worship, or perform alternative civilian service as conscientious objectors.

Of the five main Baptist churches, three have successfully reregistered; however, during the reporting period the SCWRA again rejected the applications of the Baptist churches in Aliabad (which has sought registration for 15 years) and Neftchala. Baptists stated the Aliabad notary refused to review the community's registration documents, the report said.

The Juma Mosque has remained closed since June 2004; the mosque's imam was still not allowed to travel abroad at the end of the reporting period

In April 2007, for example, police detained 16 alleged radical Salafists in Khachmaz.

In April 2007 police arrested two individuals in Sumgayit on grounds of spreading information on Nurcu Islam, which is based on the teachings of a 19th-century Turkish imam and seeks to develop a greater role for Islam in society and educational institutions.

On May 20, 2007, local police raided the meeting of a Baptist community in Aliabad and detained the pastor, Zaur Balaev. The church consists of members of the local Georgian-speaking Ingilo minority.

The US Government discusses problem of religious freedom with the Azerbaijani authorities. Embassy officers also maintained close contact with nongovernmental organizations that addressed issues of religious freedom

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