OCTOBER 29, 2019
On October 17, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that our brothers in Azerbaijan who conscientiously object to joining the military should not be criminally convicted. The judgment reaffirms that punishing conscientious objectors is a violation of an individual’s right to freedom of conscience, thought, and religion. This is the first ECHR judgment in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan.
The ruling consolidated four applications to the Court lodged between 2008 and 2015. The applications involved five brothers: Mushfig Mammadov, Samir Huseynov, Farid Mammadov, Fakhraddin Mirzayev, and Kamran Mirzayev. Each was convicted and served a prison term in Azerbaijan for refusing to perform military service. The Court found that, since the brothers’ conscientious objection to military service was based on “sincere religious convictions,” Azerbaijan’s actions against our brothers violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Further, the Court noted that alternative service should not be limited to only the clergy and students of religious institutions. The Court also held Azerbaijan responsible for paying damages to the brothers involved in the ruling.
As explained in the court judgment, Azerbaijan formally agreed to create legislation on alternative civilian service when the country became part of the Council of Europe in 2001. Additionally, Azerbaijan’s own Constitution provides alternative civilian service for individuals whose personal convictions conflict with compulsory military service. However, the authorities have yet to enact legislation on alternative service, and our brothers are still being criminally convicted for conscientious objection.
We are hopeful that the Court’s ruling will prompt authorities in Azerbaijan to institute a plan for alternative civilian service. In the meantime, we pray that our brothers in Azerbaijan continue to serve Jehovah courageously.—Psalm 27:14.