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DECEMBER 24, 2020

Recent ECHR Decisions Bolster Freedom of Worship in Azerbaijan

Recent ECHR Decisions Bolster Freedom of Worship in Azerbaijan

In October and November 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rendered several decisions in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan. The cases are Gridneva v. Azerbaijan, Sheveli and Shengelaya v. Azerbaijan, Jafarov v. Azerbaijan, and Tagiyev v. Azerbaijan. These ECHR decisions strengthen the legal protection of our brothers’ rights to preach, meet together for worship, and import literature into Azerbaijan.

The cases were submitted to the Court in 2011 and 2012. Gridneva v. Azerbaijan and Sheveli and Shengelaya v. Azerbaijan involve incidents in which law enforcement officials raided congregation meetings or interfered with our preaching activity. Jafarov v. Azerbaijan and Tagiyev v. Azerbaijan involve situations in which the government denied or limited the importation of several of our publications.

Interestingly, in three of the four cases (Gridneva v. Azerbaijan, Jafarov v. Azerbaijan, and Tagiyev v. Azerbaijan), Azerbaijan admitted to violating our brothers’ rights and agreed to pay compensation totaling 10,500 euros ($12,880 U.S.).

In Sheveli and Shengelaya v. Azerbaijan, concerning a couple in the circuit work who were wrongfully arrested and deported, the ECHR ordered Azerbaijan to pay the couple 3,000 euros ($3,680 U.S.).

In the decision, the ECHR explained: “Sanctioning [the couple] for praying or otherwise manifesting their religious belief is [not] compatible with the [European] Convention [on Human Rights]. To admit the contrary would amount to the exclusion of minority religious beliefs which are not formally registered with the State, and consequently would amount to admitting that a State can dictate what a person must believe.”

In recent years, the authorities in Azerbaijan have acted more favorably towards Jehovah’s Witnesses and upheld their rights. We are thankful for the additional support of our brothers’ religious freedoms from these recent ECHR decisions. Ultimately, we are grateful to Jehovah God, “our refuge and strength.”—Psalm 46:1.