Shia Muslim imam and prisoner of conscience Nuhbala Rahimov from Nardaran, near Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, was given an 18-month prison term on 27 May, apparently without a trial, Forum 18 notes. His mosque has been taken over by the authorities, who are imposing stronger than usual restrictions on freedom of religion and belief in the village of Nardaran. Shia Muslim theologian and head of the Muslim Unity Movement, prisoner of conscience Taleh Bagirov has had more criminal charges of murder and attempting to commit crime added to his case. And another prisoner of conscience and deputy head of the Muslim Unity Movement, Imam Elchin Qasimov, has failed in his bid to be transferred from prison to house arrest as he awaits criminal trial. Other prisoners of conscience remain under investigation in detention (see below).

Both the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Committee Against Torture have in separate reports strongly condemned the government’s record.

All three prisoners of conscience – Rahimov, Bagirov (also known as Bagirzade) and Qasimov (also known as Qasimli) – have spent more than six months in pre-trial imprisonment since their late 2015 arrests on violence-related charges. “These people didn’t commit any violence,” journalist and former prisoner of conscience Khadija Ismayilova told Forum 18.

“The government sees them as a threat because they are popular and they are not controlled by the government.” They are among many sentenced prisoners of conscience or former prisoners of conscience punished for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief (see below).“These people didn’t commit any violence”“These people didn’t commit any violence,” journalist and former prisoner of conscience Khadija Ismayilova told Forum 18 from Baku on 18 June. “The government sees them as a threat because they are popular and they are not controlled by the government.”Human rights defender Ismayilova is now serving a three and a half year suspended sentence after being freed from prison on 25 May when the Supreme Court reduced her sentence from seven and a half years’ imprisonment. She is still barred from leaving Baku or the country. Her release from jail followed widespread international protests, and her conviction is seen as punishment for her journalism on corruption and human rights issues.Etibar Najafov, Chief Adviser on Multiculturalism, Ethnic and Religious Affairs in the Presidential Administration, asked on 1 December 2015 if the Muslim Unity Movement had killed or proposed killing anyone, replied to Forum 18: “No”.

iRabwah| News Watch |
Source/Credit: Forum 18 News
By Felix Corley |