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5/8/2024 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) recently added Azerbaijan to its Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) recommendation list. Countries featured on the CPC recommendation list are the most serious violators of religious freedom.

“USCIRF documented a significant and alarming increase in the number of prisoners arrested on the basis of religion or belief in Azerbaijan in the year,” said USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck at the launch event of the Commission’s annual report. “In addition, authorities are regularly accused of torturing or threatening sexual violence to illicit false confessions from detainees with those perpetrating such violence facing no accountability.”

Azerbaijan, a small dictatorship situated between Russia and Iran, has a long track record of persecuting religious minorities, especially ethnic Armenian Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. And while most of the population is Muslim, even Islamic worship is tightly controlled by the authoritarian government.

The regime, led by President Ilham Aliyev, has spent years inciting public hatred for the region’s ancient community of Armenian Christians. President Aliyev acted on this hatred when the Azerbaijani military first blockaded and then forcibly took over the Armenian-majority district of Nagorno-Karabakh (also called Artsakh) in September 2023. About 120,000 ethnic Armenians fled their homes to neighboring Armenia over fears of genocide.

Since September, Caucus Heritage Watch has documented Azerbaijan’s campaign of ethnic cleansing of the region as the military has systematically defaced and completely removed numerous Christian structures and monuments, some of them dating back to the Middle Ages.

In addition to Armenian Christians, Azerbaijan has often targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses for prosecution. The Witnesses’ staunch belief in pacifism clashes with the country’s mandatory military service requirement for men. And despite international law requiring exceptions be made for conscientious objectors to military service, many Azeri Jehovah’s Witnesses have been forcibly conscripted into the military and later tortured at military disciplinary units, according to Forum 18.

International Christian Concern (ICC) strongly supports USCIRF’s recommendation of Azerbaijan as a Country of Particular Concern. We encourage the U.S. Dept. of State to officially name Azerbaijan a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act and take decisive action to protect religious freedom for Christians and other minorities in the region.