F18News: Azerbaijan – Heavy fines for selling unapproved literature

FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway
https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=Ap6K5SQ50H3OyAhnNR1QtYL4QReTQOuAgI-DKX88I9k&e=

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief

=================================================

Tuesday 
AZERBAIJAN: HEAVY FINES FOR SELLING UNAPPROVED LITERATURE

Samad Alikhanov and Zakir Mirzayev were fined up to five months' average
wages for offering religious literature for sale without state permission.
The literature was confiscated. On 18 September a Baku court resumes
hearing theologian Elshad Miri's suit against the State Committee
pre-publication ban on his book on Islam.

AZERBAIJAN: HEAVY FINES FOR SELLING UNAPPROVED LITERATURE
https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D2411&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=74llV-1fCXdeT7F5JNNNkh23LjSOvwkXfwMP4CcZvdo&e=
By Felix Corley, Forum 18

Courts continue to hand down fines of up to five months' average wages on
individuals who offer such literature for sale in unapproved locations or
without the stickers to show the books have undergone state censorship.
Azerbaijan imposes tight prior compulsory state censorship of all religious
literature published, sold or distributed in or imported into the country.

Administrative Code Articles under which three individuals were punished
for offering religious literature specify that the literature is to be
confiscated.

Samad Alikhanov, who offered religious books for sale without state
approval in the northern city of Sheki, failed to overturn his large fine
on appeal on 4 September. He had been fined about four months' average
wages in August (see below).

Similarly, Zakir Mirzayev, who offered religious books for sale without
state approval in the south-eastern city of Shirvan, failed to overturn his
large fine on appeal on 27 July. He had been fined about five months'
average wages in February (see below).

Meanwhile, Adil Zinkiyev, who sold religious books at a mosque in the
northern Zaqatala District which had not undergone the compulsory state
censorship, was fined for selling products without the compulsory stickers
to show they have state approval for sale. In what appears to be a new
move, he was punished under the Administrative Code not for selling
uncensored religious literature, but for selling items that require state
approval for sale, such as alcohol, tobacco and religious literature. Sheki
Appeal Court rejected his appeal on 18 May (see below).

No official of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations in
the capital Baku was prepared to talk to Forum 18 on 11 September.
Officials put the phone down as soon as Forum 18 began to ask why
individuals are punished for offering religious literature without state
permission.

Baku-based Islamic theologian Elshad Miri is challenging in court the State
Committee's February pre-publication ban on his book "Things Not Existing
in Islam", which prevented it being published in Azerbaijan. Baku's
Administrative Economic Court No. 1 is due to resume hearing Miri's suit
against the State Committee decision in the afternoon of 18 September (see
below).

Complete religious literature censorship

All religious literature produced in, published in (including on the
internet) or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory
censorship. When the State Committee does give permission to publish or
import a work it also specifies how many copies can be produced or
imported. All religious materials sold must have a sticker (each costing
0.02 Manats) noting that they have State Committee approval. State
officials have repeatedly denied that this represents censorship (see
F18News 1 October 2015
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D2107&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=PCCzj2PoOh3qNYc5lqMuspUyis8HuNmv51Nxo4sIp1o&e=>).

"One of the main directions of our activity is to prevent the spread of
unauthorised religious literature," a Deputy Chair of the State Committee,
Siyavush Heydarov, told the local Trend news agency on 27 January 2017.

The Old Testament, the 14-volume "Risale-i Nur" (Messages of Light)
collection of writings by the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi, and
several Jehovah's Witness publications were included on a police list of
alleged "banned" religious literature, based on State Committee "expert
analyses" (see F18News 6 May 2014
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D1955&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=uHAx9RGVnJG9iQNZ8ryEiWImhX0vrPCERuNmlzRhDYQ&e=>).

Religious literature and other materials can be sold or distributed only at
specialised outlets which have been approved both by the State Committee
and the local administration. People who sell religious literature and
materials without such permission are routinely fined, with the materials
being seized (see F18News 10 May 2017
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D2278&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=C3c7dG_VKEj1GKP5B5IPj0NOAJq1-Rz6l8FNQdeRB0Q&e=>).

In 2017 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg asked the
Azerbaijani government to respond in several Jehovah's Witness cases where
the State Committee banned the import of their publications or police and
the courts detained and punished individuals for distributing religious
literature "illegally" (see F18News 13 February 2018
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D2351&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=vSoX4DofCV0E52lf9aSpgWHy4R3UHwU_bWmCfGv-GlI&e=>).

In all, Jehovah's Witnesses have lodged four cases to the ECtHR in
Strasbourg and one complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Committee
over Azerbaijan's earlier censorship of their religious literature. The
State Committee has not withheld permission for imports of Jehovah's
Witness literature since November 2015.

Sheki: Appeal against large fine fails

In summer 2018, officials found Samad Alikhanov offering religious
literature for sale without state permission in the northern city of Sheki.
A case was prepared against him under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2.

Article 516.0.2 punishes "Selling religious literature (printed or on
electronic devices), audio and video materials, religious merchandise and
products, or other religious informational materials, which have been
authorised for sale under the Religion Law, outside specialised sale
outlets established with the permission of the relevant government
authority distributing religious literature, religious objects and
information material without State Committee permission".

Punishment under Article 516.0.2 entails confiscation of the literature,
merchandise and products or other materials concerned. Additional
punishments under Article 516 are: for individuals fines of between 2,000
and 2,500 Manats; for officials fines of between 8,000 and 9,000 Manats;
for organisations fines of between 20,000 and 25,000 Manats; and for
foreigners and stateless persons fines of between 2,000 and 2,500 Manats
with deportation from Azerbaijan.

A fine of 2,000 Manats (9,850 Norwegian Kroner, 1,015 Euros or 1,175 US
Dollars) represents about four months' average wages for those with a
formal job. However, for those in rural areas, those without a formal job,
or pensioners, such fines represent a far heavier financial burden.

On 6 August, Judge Jahid Imanov at Sheki District Court fined Alikhanov
2,000 Manats, the Judge's assistant told Forum 18 on 11 September.

Alikhanov appealed against his fine to Sheki Appeal Court. However, on 4
September Judge Rafail Aliyev rejected his appeal and left the fine
unchanged, the Appeal Court chancellery told Forum 18 on 11 September.

The telephone of Taleh Abdullayev, the Sheki regional representative of the
State Committee, went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 11 September.

Shirvan: Appeal against large fine fails

In early 2018, officials found Zakir Mirzayev offering religious literature
for sale without state permission in the south-eastern city of Shirvan. A
case was prepared against him under Administrative Code Article 516.0.2.

On 26 February, a Judge at Shirvan City Court fined Mirzayev the maximum
2,500 Manats. This represents about five months' average wages for those
with a formal job. However, for those in rural areas, those without a
formal job, or pensioners, such fines represent a far heavier financial
burden.

Mirzayev appealed against his fine to Shirvan Appeal Court. However, on 27
July, Judge Kamil Bashirov rejected his appeal and left the fine unchanged,
the Appeal Court chancellery told Forum 18 on 5 September.

The telephone of the Shirvan regional representative of the State Committee
went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 11 September.

Punishment for selling non-approved books

The regional official of the State Committee in the northern region of
Zaqatala, Ilqar Valiyev, arrived at about the time of Friday prayers on 16
February at the mosque in the village of Car, 5 kms (3 miles) north-east of
Zaqatala. The village - with a population of about 5,000 - is mainly
Avar-speaking and is close to Azerbaijan's northern border with Russia.

Valiyev found the 37-year-old Adil Zinkiyev offering 19 religious and
historical books and 16 pamphlets for sale outside the mosque. The Islamic
publications were in Avar, Russian and Arabic, many of them published in
Russia. They had not undergone the compulsory state censorship and were not
marked with the required State Committee sticker.

Valiyev prepared a record of an offence under Administrative Code Article
451. This punishes "Storing with the intention of sale or distribution,
taking outside the place of production, or selling or distributing in any
other way goods, products and informational material that should bear a
control mark but do not have such a mark". Such items include alcohol,
tobacco and religious literature.

Article 451 specifies a fine of 50 Manats per item for individuals (to a
maximum of 5,000 Manats), 100 Manats per item for officials (to a maximum
of 10,000 Manats), and 150 Manats per item for legal entities (to a maximum
of 50,000 Manats). In addition, items without the stickers authorising sale
are to be confiscated.

On 6 March, Judge Arif Ismayilov of Zaqatala District Court fined Zinkiyev
1,750 Manats. This represents more than three and a half months' average
wages for those with a formal job. It appears the judge fined Zinkiyev 50
Manats for each of the 35 seized publications.

Valiyev claimed in court that Zinkiyev had violated Article 22 of the
Religion Law. This Article sets out the requirement for all religious
literature offered for sale to be marked with the State Committee stickers
to show that it has undergone the state religious censorship. It also
requires State Committee permission for religious literature to be sold in
a particular location.

Zinkiyev appealed against the punishment. However, on 18 May, Judge Rafail
Aliyev of Sheki Appeal Court rejected his appeal and left the fine
unchanged, according to the decision seen by Forum 18.

Reached on 11 September, religious affairs official Valiyev claimed he
could not hear Forum 18's questions and put the phone down. Called back
immediately, his mobile phone had been switched off.

Theologian's challenge to state's book ban to resume in court

Baku-based Islamic theologian Elshad Miri lodged a suit to court,
challenging the State Committee's pre-publication ban on his book "Things
Not Existing in Islam". The book covers seven of what he regards as myths
about what Islam teaches. Chapters include "There is no magic in Islam" and
"There is no child marriage in Islam" (see F18News 14 May 2018
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D2376&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=KbIlZZiWgnUAdIh3y77wGtgfk4ajCmiC16ou6O3SH6c&e=>).

Judge Aygun Abdullayeva of Baku's Administrative Economic Court No. 1 is
due to resume hearing Miri's suit against the State Committee decision in
the afternoon of 18 September, according to court records.

The case began in court on 4 April, with further hearings on 1, 10 and 15
May. At the 15 May hearing, Judge Abdullayeva ordered a religious studies
"expert analysis" of Miri's book. This was assigned to Islamic scholar Anar
Qafarov of Baku's Theology Institute. President Ilham Aliyev decreed the
founding of the Institute on 9 February, subordinating it to the State
Committee.

Qafarov completed his 15-page analysis - partially seen by Forum 18 - on 9
August. In his conclusions, Qafarov states that Miri's book does not incite
religious hatred or enmity, or conflict between religions and
denominations. However, it claims that some parts of the book could have a
negative influence on the religious situation in the country.

Qafarov maintains that the book could be published if Miri changes its
title and some of the chapter headings, and gives more sources.

Miri's publisher handed the text of his book on Islam to the State
Committee in January, as required by law. On 2 February, the State
Committee banned it in a one-page document signed by Chief Specialist Namiq
Jiriyev. He questioned Miri's interpretation of Islam on theological
grounds, and concluded: "The investigation found ideas in the book that
could have a negative influence on religious stability in the country. The
book is, therefore, deemed unsuitable for publication."

In his response, Miri told the State Committee officials "it is not correct
to ban a book I wrote in a country which does not [officially] have
censorship". Jiriyev refused to discuss his ban on Miri's book with Forum
18 in February (see F18News 13 February 2018
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D2351&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=vSoX4DofCV0E52lf9aSpgWHy4R3UHwU_bWmCfGv-GlI&e=>).

Miri's book has already been published in Azeri in Kyrgyzstan and Turkey,
as well as in Turkish in Turkey. (END)

For background information see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom
survey at 
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D2081&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=UvXegOmvmDX-l8MdWRLja5YjqRhIJjjDgyicuAFUIJc&e=>.

More coverage of freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Azerbaijan is
at 
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_Archive.php-3Fquery-3D-26religion-3Dall-26country-3D23&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=9qT95Pi54q_mfcJsxX0s0Gs22NlELjiUz3FVJrId8bM&e=>.

A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_Archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D1351&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=M7PWJ-udUX8S4EXXqImWXrZjwx8EVju-VsBr8sVC680&e=>.

For a personal commentary, by an Azeri Protestant, on how the international
community can help establish religious freedom in Azerbaijan, see
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.forum18.org_Archive.php-3Farticle-5Fid-3D482&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=Wg9gv5NZXwBjvLu5Ih2z2qLDF_r2z_y7aRX3AWTvZeg&e=>.

A printer-friendly map of Azerbaijan is available at
<https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__nationalgeographic.org_education_mapping_outline-2Dmap_-3Fmap-3DAzerbaijan&d=DwIBaQ&c=clK7kQUTWtAVEOVIgvi0NU5BOUHhpN0H8p7CSfnc_gI&r=LVw5zH6C4LHpVQcGEdVcrQ&m=_EiXj3dRbRNCqjA9BWGbAb-07kWDvFybGMlN8x5VqQs&s=u4dxfWqp883K8n-nLL69WEWWjGr5NYvOYM4gu8FZQz4&e=>.

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