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AZERBAIJAN: Is confiscating religious literature censorship?
 ICC Note:
At the end of September a family was stopped at the border of Azerbaijan when they were on their return from Russia. The family was held for more than six hours as secret police searched the car, questioned them and had them fill out paperwork. The family had their religious material and vehicle confiscated. This is the most recent incidence, but it caught the attention of the OSCE who has criticized Azerbaijan for their Religion Laws, which do not meet human rights standards.
10/25/2012 Azerbaijan (Forum18)-Azerbaijani customs and secret police officers spent more than six hours searching a family minibus returning from Russia in late September, seizing religious literature they found hidden and confiscating the van and the driver’s passport, members of the Byakov family told Forum 18 News Service. One copy of each book and magazine has been sent to the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations in Baku for “religious expert analysis”. Azerbaijan bans the import of religious literature without State Committee permission.

One month on from the September seizure of religious literature and a family minibus by Azerbaijani Customs on the border with Russia, neither the literature nor the minibus have been returned, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In a separate case, a family car confiscated along with religious literature in May was returned in mid-October, but the literature has not been returned. The local Prosecutor told Forum 18 that the criminal case against three local Baptists is still being investigated, despite earlier comments to the three that they will be amnestied. Claiming that censorship has been abolished in Azerbaijan, the Prosecutor denied that confiscating religious literature represents censorship.
The latest seizure of the literature and the vehicle come as Azerbaijan faced wide-ranging criticism in a legal Opinion by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) over the failure of the controversial Religion Law to meet Azerbaijan’s international human rights commitments. A senior Presidential Administration official and a senior official of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party have both rejected the Venice Commission/OSCE’s recommendations for legal changes to bring the Law into compliance
Late on 21 September, members of the Byakov family, members of a Council of Baptists congregation in Sumgait, and another congregation member were stopped at the border crossing at Yalama in Khachmaz [Xacmaz] District on Azerbaijan’s northern border as they returned in the family minibus from Russia, family members told Forum 18 on 22 September. Customs officers ordered the seven passengers to carry their belongings through the passenger customs inspection. Pyotr Byakov – who was driving – was ordered to take the minibus to a special point for it to be thoroughly examined.
“Two cars with flashing lights then arrived bringing [National Security Ministry, NSM] secret police,” family members told Forum 18, “and about 15 officers began searching the vehicle, taking off the interior panels to search behind them.” Officers seized 700 Baptist brochures, 50 books and 70 booklets from hiding places in the vehicle. They then detained Pyotr Byakov, took his passport and seized the minibus.
“The search began at about 9 pm, and the search and filling in of forms lasted until after three o’clock in the morning,” family members told Forum 18. “We were then freed, although Pyotr was held until the daytime.”
“Officials said the literature was not allowed and asked why we had brought it into the country,” family members told Forum 18. “They said the minibus would be held until the case was resolved.” Officers asked Pyotr Byakov why the literature had been hidden. “He responded that the last time he had brought religious literature from Russia carrying it openly, officers had confiscated it.”
The confiscated literature was sent for an “expert analysis” to see if it was “against the law”, officers told family members. In mid-October, family members were told it had come back from the first analysis, but had then been one copy of each publication had been sent for a “religious expert analysis” to the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations in Baku, which operates Azerbaijan’s religious censorship. Officials told family members the new analysis would take “at least a month”.
No Customs Service officials in Khachmaz District were prepared to explain why the religious literature and minibus were seized and why they have not yet been returned. Forum 18 reached the telephone of District Chief Said Akhundov on 23 October, but his assistant said he was away on business in Baku and he was unable to pass on his mobile telephone number. The assistant said no one else could answer Forum 18’s questions.

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