Jehovah’s Witnesses were first registered in Baku in 1999 and were granted reregistration in 2002. * In subsequent years, the Witnesses had a measure of religious freedom but were subjected to tight government control, including police raids on religious meetings and censorship of literature.
However, freedom of worship of the Witnesses in Azerbaijan became more difficult after the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations (SCWRA) introduced amendments to the religion law. In 2010, the SCWRA rejected the Witnesses’ reregistration application on technical grounds, thus leaving the Baku religious community without full legal status.The Witnesses have also attempted to register in other cities in Azerbaijan, but without success.
Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to experience harassment and restrictions. The police have searched some Witnesses’ homes and confiscated their personal property, including Bibles. Law-enforcement officials have arrested and prosecuted some Witnesses for sharing their religious beliefs with others, resulting in heavy fines and imprisonment. Without registration, authorities consider the Witnesses’ religious services unlawful, thus they disrupt them, detain attendees, and impose heavy fines.
Since November 2015, the SCWRA has not refused import of any new publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, the ongoing violations of religious freedom are incompatible with Azerbaijan’s commitments to the Council of Europe. Additionally, the government has failed to provide for alternative civilian service. As a result, young male Witnesses are sometimes harassed and prosecuted for their conscientious objection to military service.
In the last ten years, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan have sought greater religious freedom by filing 22 applications with the European Court of Human Rights and 4 complaints with the UN Human Rights Committee. Representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses are meeting with governmental authorities in Azerbaijan in an effort to resolve these violations.
^ par. 2 Registered as the Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Azerbaijani Republic