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05/24/2021 Azerbaijan (International Christian Concern)  – In a May 17 report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has expressed concern for several proposed amendments to Azerbaijan’s law on religious freedom. The latest of frequent issues regarding religious freedom in the country, these amendments seek to limit the activities of minority religious communities by imposing restrictions on religious leaders and the ability of congregations to operate normally while leaders are absent. Further, many events and ceremonies put on by religious communities would be dependent upon the establishment of a “religious center”.

In a delegation to Azerbaijan in 2020, USCIRF dictated many of its concerns over existing limitations on religious freedom in the country. These included the mandatory registration of religious organizations, which excludes groups with under 50 members, as well as restrictions against foreigners leading religious functions and governmental approval of all religious literature. The new amendments to Azerbaijan’s religious law suggest that not only have USCIRF’s concerns gone unheeded, they have been actively defied.

 

USCIRF’s concerns also include Azerbaijan’s failure to protect significant religious sites and places of worship in the country. In Shusha, one of the largest cities in the heavily-contested Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenian: Artsakh) region, Azerbaijan has begun controversial renovations on the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral without the approval of those who worship there. During these “restorations”, prominent features of the church’s structure have gone missing, including domes and statues of angels. Concerns over damage done by the Azeri government to religious sites have prompted the attention of UNESCO, but the agency has been prohibited from examining the cathedral and other locations in the country.

 

It is no secret that religious freedom in Azerbaijan is far from guaranteed, and the concerns raised by USCIRF only reinforce that understanding. USCIRF’s 2021 Annual Report outlines restrictive religious policy, the unjust imprisonment of religious leaders, and the targeting of religious sites during the 2020 war with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region as further indications of Azerbaijan’s failure to protect religious freedom in the country.

 

For interviews, please contact Addison Parker: press@persecution.org