Thursday, December 16, 2010

Azerbaijan officials want stiffer penalties for religious-activity infractions

Harsher punishment for religous
activity a "question of national
security" in Azerbaijan?
Eighteen months ago, Azerbaijan increased penalties for religious activity under the Criminal and Administrative Codes. Government officials and now ready to make the penalties stiffer.

Forum 18 News Service is reporting that parliamentary deputies are considering harsher penalties in proposed amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences. Minimum fines for individuals violating the Religion Law—such as holding unregistered religious worship—could be increased 15-fold.

"This is connected with religious communities which have failed to gain re-registration but still function," said Rabiyat Aslanova, chair of parliament's Human Rights Committee, on December 9. "It's so that they realise the responsibility for their actions. People are not fined just for praying to God. This is a question of national security."

The proposed amendments were approved on December 8, at a joint meeting of the Milli Mejlis (parliament) Legal Policy and State Building Committee and the Human Rights Committee. The amendments are ready to go to a plenary session, which is scheduled for late December.

The proposed increases in penalties have aroused concern among human rights defenders and religious communities, which are regularly penalised under the Code of Administrative Offences for religious activity such as for holding unregistered worship or other religious meetings, or sharing their faith.

You can read the full report here.

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