JUNE 11, 2015
Jehovah’s Witnesses are calling on international authorities to speak out against the unjust detention of Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova. The two women have been in jail since February 17, 2015, when the Sabail District Court sentenced them to three months of pretrial detention for alleged unauthorized distribution of religious literature. The court recently extended their detention by two more months.
Peaceable Women Treated as Dangerous Criminals
On December 5, 2014, Ms. Zakharchenko and Ms. Jabrayilova were talking to the residents of an apartment complex in Baku about their Bible-based beliefs when police stopped them. The police released the women after a few hours, but investigators repeatedly summoned them for interrogation. On February 17, 2015, agents of the Ministry of National Security (MNS) unexpectedly brought the women to a closed hearing to be criminally charged. The judge characterized them as a “threat to the public” in order to justify their pretrial detention. Immediately, the MNS jailed the women at its headquarters, pictured above.
Since then, agents of the MNS conducted an extensive search of their homes, confiscating religious literature, personal notebooks, a laptop, and a mobile phone. The court has dismissed every appeal on behalf of the women and refuses to grant house arrest as a replacement for pretrial detention.
Great Concern for Health and Well-Being
Lawyers, family, and friends are concerned for the state of health and well-being of the two women, which they believe is worsening. Ms. Zakharchenko is 55 years old. Doctors classify her as being 80 percent disabled because of severe arthritis and a previous injury to her right leg.
There is particular concern about the women’s emotional health. The MNS allows only their attorneys to visit them. Relatives can forward necessary items such as clothes, medicines, and soap only once a month. In an effort to offer comfort, family members have tried to provide them with a Bible, but the MNS has refused permission.
Will Azerbaijan Move to Show Religious Tolerance?
As part of the investigation of Ms. Zakharchenko and Ms. Jabrayilova, the MNS has summoned and interrogated at least 20 other Witnesses and searched at least ten homes. Additionally, officials representing the MNS, agents of the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations, and the police searched the Kingdom Hall where the women worship.
Since Azerbaijan’s authorities have offered them no alternative, Jehovah’s Witnesses have applied to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and contacted a number of international organizations to call attention to Azerbaijan’s unjust detention and treatment of Ms. Zakharchenko and Ms. Jabrayilova. Azerbaijan has made international commitments to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms and prides itself in its claim of being a country of religious tolerance.
Jehovah’s Witnesses respectfully request that the government of Azerbaijan honor its human rights obligations and permit the Witnesses to worship in peace. They appeal to the government of Azerbaijan to release these innocent women immediately.