On October 31, 2018, the Ganja Court of Appeal in Azerbaijan upheld a lower court ruling to convict Brother Vahid Abilov, 19, for conscientious objection. Although Vahid is not imprisoned, his one-year conditional sentence places several restrictions on him. For example, he must report to a probation officer each week, and he is not allowed to leave Azerbaijan. Vahid will now appeal to the Supreme Court, his last opportunity for justice in Azerbaijan’s judicial system.
The challenge to our brother’s neutrality began in May 2017. He had recently turned 18 and was required to report to the Aghdam District Department of the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription. There he presented a written statement explaining that he could not serve in the military. He wrote: “My Bible-trained conscience prevents me from taking up military service. I do not evade, or even think of evading, the fulfillment of my civic duty. I just kindly ask you to provide me with alternative civilian service instead of military service.” The authorities rebuffed Vahid’s wishes, and on July 9, 2018, indicted him under the charge of evading military service.
During the hearing in the Ganja Court of Appeal, Brother Abilov further explained his motives for objecting to military service. He read Isaiah 2:4 to the court and explained that his personal examination of the Bible convinced him that he “should not even learn to fight.” Nonetheless, the court upheld his conviction. It is yet to be seen if the Supreme Court will respect his wishes.
When Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001, it committed itself to adopt legislation providing for alternative civilian service. The government has yet to do so. As a result, our brothers regularly face the neutrality issue for their conscientious objection to military service. Earlier in the year, an Azerbaijan district court found another one of our brothers, Emil Mehdiyev, guilty of evasion of military service and sentenced him to one year of probation. He has also appealed his case to the Supreme Court. Additionally, there are four cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights against Azerbaijan concerning our brothers who are conscientious objectors. Despite these challenges, our brothers are continuing to rely on Jehovah to maintain their neutrality.—John 15:19.