Amendments to the law on religion in Azerbaijan impose restrictions on the appointment of religious leaders
Amendments to the Law on Religion and the Administrative Code of Azerbaijan will be prevent churches from appointing leaders without state approval.
The amendments, enacted by President Ilham Aliyev on June 16, require the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations to approve the appointment of all non-Islamic religious leaders in predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan, as well as the oversight of the appointment of Islamic clerics.
Churches – as well as other places of worship – must also have a “religious center” or a state-recognized seat (as opposed to a local place of worship) in order to apply for permission to appoint born ministers. abroad, or even to invite strangers. people born to lead religious services.
The amendments do not specify how churches can apply for state recognition of a named religious center.
This creates potential problems, especially for smaller churches – for example, independent Protestant congregations – which, even if they are officially registered as local places of worship, may not be able to be recognized as local places of worship. religious centers.
The amendments also do not say what will happen to churches or congregations without a religious center that already have foreign-born pastors or ministers.
The approval of the State Committee is also now required for churches to organize “mass events” outside of state-registered places of worship.
This provision will affect churches that have not been able to obtain public registration, some of which meet in private homes, especially as the amendments do not provide a proper definition of what constitutes a mass event. .
In April 2021, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) added Azerbaijan to its Special Watch List (SWL) for “committing or tolerating serious violations of religious freedom.”
In addition to war crimes against Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh, USCIRF cited the precarious legal situation of churches and other places of worship that had failed to obtain official registration and the reluctance of relevant authorities in Azerbaijan to allow such a recording.