SEPTEMBER 29, 2020
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued two important decisions in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan on September 24, 2020. The first decision related to the case of Valiyev and Others v. Azerbaijan, and the second related to the case of Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Azerbaijan. These decisions bolster the legal protection of our brothers’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs.
In both cases, Azerbaijan made a declaration admitting to violating our brothers’ legal right. The government also agreed to give monetary compensation to the brothers amounting to a total of 19,000 euros ($22,146 U.S.). The ECHR decisions reflected the Court’s acceptance of the declaration.
Valiyev and Others v. Azerbaijan, filed with the ECHR in 2011, involved our brothers in the city of Ganja. For years, the Ganja authorities blocked our organization from legal registration. As a result, law-enforcement officials habitually disrupted our peaceful religious meetings, detained everyone present, and imposed large fines on some of those in attendance. One brother was repeatedly convicted and fined, eventually paying a total of 9,450 Azerbaijani Manats ($11,375 U.S. at the time). Some brothers and sisters were even arrested because they could not pay the exorbitant fines.
In 2013, the brothers brought the second case, Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Azerbaijan, to the ECHR because Azerbaijan had limited the amount of literature that could be imported.
Though the government has still not granted legal registration in Ganja, the situation has improved significantly. In recent years, our brothers have held meetings composed of small groups in private homes without government interference. Additionally, though literature must be reviewed by the government before it can be imported, the government has allowed our brothers to import a sufficient amount of literature.
Brother Kiril Stepanov, who helps to coordinate the Public Information Desk for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan, states: “We hope that this important ECHR judgment will speed the process of obtaining registration in Ganja and other cities in Azerbaijan. It is our hope that the government review of our literature before importation will be removed in time.”
We are grateful to Jehovah for his support. These favorable legal decisions are further evidence that ‘no weapon formed against God’s people will have any success.’—Isaiah 54:17.