JANUARY 5, 2021
The UN Human Rights Committee issued two important decisions in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan on December 15, 2020. The cases were Rahima Huseynova v. Azerbaijan; and Saladdin Mammadov, Rashad Niftaliyev and Sadagat Abbasova v. Azerbaijan. In both cases, the Committee ruled that the State had violated the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses and requested that Azerbaijan amend their laws to avoid future violations.
Rahima Huseynova v. Azerbaijan involved a situation in which law enforcement officials in Baku detained Sister Rahima Huseynova in December 2014 for sharing her beliefs. Afterward, a district court fined her 1,500 Azerbaijani Manats ($882 U.S.), since Jehovah’s Witnesses were not a registered religion in Baku at that time. * On appeal, the Baku Court of Appeal upheld the decision. Sister Huseynova decided to take the case to an international court.
The UN Human Rights Committee ruled that the State violated Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Committee demanded that Azerbaijan pay adequate compensation. Interestingly, in their published views, the Committee stated that Azerbaijan is also “under an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future, including by reviewing its domestic legislation, regulations and/or practices with a view to ensuring that the rights under article 18 of the [ICCPR] may be fully enjoyed.”
Saladdin Mammadov, Rashad Niftaliyev and Sadagat Abbasova v. Azerbaijan pertains to a group of brothers and sisters in Ganja who gathered together to study the Bible in the home of Brother Saladdin Mammadov. In October 2014, police officers raided the small meeting and searched the home, confiscating Bibles and other items. Brother Mammadov, Brother Rashad Niftaliyev, and Sister Sadagat Abbasova were taken to the police station and detained for over six hours. Two days later, they were summoned to the Ganja City Nizami District Court. The court ruled that the meeting was illegal because the participants as a group had not been registered as a religious association in Ganja. The court fined the Witnesses 2,000 Azerbaijani Manats ($1,176 U.S.) each. The brothers and sister appealed to the Ganja Court of Appeal. Unfortunately, the district court decision was upheld. They then appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Committee found that Azerbaijan violated a number of ICCPR articles and should compensate the three Witnesses. Significantly, the Committee’s published views noted that “the District Court did not advance any argument as to why it was necessary for the authors to first register with the Government before practicing their religion in community in a private home.” The statement confirms that our brothers in Azerbaijan have the right to meet together for worship without being legally registered.
Similar to the Rahima Huseynova case, the Committee also requested that Azerbaijan review its “laws, regulations and/or practices” to ensure compliance with rights guaranteed under the ICCPR.
Thankfully, the situation in Azerbaijan has improved and the authorities have not interfered with our brothers’ right to worship in recent years. We hope that these two decisions will further legally establish the good news in Azerbaijan.—Philippians 1:7.
^ par. 3 In November 2018, Azerbaijan gave Jehovah’s Witnesses full legal registration in Baku.