Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Azerbaijan: Three years' jail for leading prayers while being 'educated'


Imam Babayev was jailed under Criminal Code punishments introduced in December 2015 which solely target those who lead Muslim worship after having gained religious education abroad.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | EU Desk
Source/Credit: Forum 18
By Felix Corley | 10 July 2017

Sardar Babayev was jailed for three years for leading mosque prayers because he was educated abroad, the first known punishment for this "crime". Religion Law amendments now allow state exceptions to the ban. Two acquitted Jehovah's Witnesses, who spent a year in prison, offered no compensation.

For what is believed to be the first time, an Azerbaijani court has handed down a prison term to punish an individual with foreign religious education for leading Muslim prayers. On 3 July a court in the southern town of Masalli imprisoned 43-year-old Shia Muslim Sardar Babayev for three years. He is preparing to appeal against the sentence to Shirvan Appeal Court.

Imam Babayev was jailed under Criminal Code punishments introduced in December 2015 which solely target those who lead Muslim worship after having gained religious education abroad.

President Ilham Aliyev signed amendments to the Religion Law to allow the state-backed Caucasian Muslim Board and the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations to approve the appointment of foreign-educated imams to lead worship in the Board's mosques. The amendments also allow a foreigner appointed by a "religious centre" to conduct "religious propaganda" in Azerbaijan. Religious "propaganda" by any other foreigner remains illegal and punishable (see below).

Given the severe difficulties for most religious communities in gaining state registration, It remains unclear which religious communities have a state-recognised "religious centre" apart from the state-backed Muslim Board.

Criminal Case for leading prayers

Sardar Akif oglu Babayev (born 12 March 1974) is married with three children. He completed theological studies at Al Mustafa University in the Iranian city of Qom in 2000. He also studied Islam in Baku. At the invitation of the state-backed Muslim Board, Imam Babayev led the namaz (Friday prayers) at Masalli's Juma (Friday) Mosque from 2009.

In late 2016, the head of Masalli District administration, Rafil Huseynov, wrote a complaint about Imam Babayev. Police then investigated. Senior Lieutenant Sahil Aliyev then launched a criminal case against the Imam under Criminal Code Article 168-1.3.1.

http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2295


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