06/08/2011, 00.00
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Azerbaijani parliament to discuss new, more restrictive rules on religious freedom

Religious groups now need 50 founding members (it was 10) to set up a religious communities. All activities, including Bible reading, will need prior authorisation. Religious leaders are very critical of the bill.
Baku (AsiaNews/F18) – Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has sent new amendments to a proposed religion law to the country's parliament, the Milli Mejlis, which is due to consider them on 10 June. Local religious leaders have criticised the proposed changes as more restrictive than what was originally proposed, especially for groups that have already difficulty in obtaining state recognition.

Under the draft law, 50 adults (against 10 at present) would have to state that they are founders for a religious community to apply for state registration, news agency Forum 18 reported. The bill would require a religious group’s central body to have jurisdiction over all its communities.

“Courses by religious communities for young adults and adults to study holy books” would be allowed only if prior authorisation were obtained. That means that even catechism and Bible reading would require a permit.

Muslim communities must obtain prior authorisation and submit regular reports on their activities to the authorities. They must also be “created in mosques by citizens of the Azerbaijani Republic”.

“These amendments are anti-constitutional and violate the European Convention on Human Rights and United Nations human rights provisions," Muslim activist Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Allahverdiev told Forum 18.

Iqbal Agazade, an opposition lawmaker, is even more critical. “The amendments restrict human rights and are not in accordance with Azerbaijani law and international standards," he said.

Following the adoption of a new religious law in 2009, all religious groups had to re-register, even those that were already registered.

However, many did not receive any response and so had to operate without authorisation, “illegally” so to speak, with the possibility of further sanctions.

For many, by increasing the number of founding members required for registration, the authorities are forcing all groups to re-register and undertake once more the long and complex procedure of registration.

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