Friday 24 December 1999

AZERBAIJAN REGISTERS TWO PROTESTANT CHURCHES, DECLINES JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES by Felix Corley, Keston News Service Azerbaijan's Ministry of Justice finally registered two Charismatic Churches in December, but declined registration to the Jehovah's Witnesses. However, an official at the Department for Religious Affairs told Keston News Service from Baku that the Jehovah's Witnesses' application will be considered again. Sources in Baku told Keston that the Cathedral of Praise, a Charismatic Church led by MATS-JAN SOEDERBERG, was registered in the second week of December, while the Nehemiah Church, led by RAUF HUSSEINOV, was registered on 20 December. However, the sources reported that when the Collegium of the Ministry of Justice met on 22 December it rejected the application submitted by the Jehovah's Witnesses. Local Jehovah's Witnesses in Baku have confirmed the rejection. `For confirmation, today I asked the leader of their community,' ELDAR ZEYNALOV, chairman of the Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan, told Keston from Baku on 22 December. `Some rumours have been circulating that after the recent noise around the persecution of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the authorities are almost ready, but... As yet no registration.' Jehovah's Witness representatives had been expecting that registration would be granted. ARNO TUNGLER of the Jehovah's Witnesses in neighbouring Georgia had travelled to Baku to help facilitate the registration, Tungler's colleague HERMANN PRESBER told Keston from Tbilisi on 21 December. `Discussions concerning registration are continuing. However there has been no visible progress, although the officials responsible are at least considering our material submitted for registration.' An article in the local newspaper Zerkalo had erroneously reported on 17 December that the Jehovah's Witnesses had already received registration. Despite this rejection, an official of the government's Department for Religious Affairs told Keston from Baku on 23 December that the Jehovah's Witnesses' application would be considered again. `The reason for the failure to register them was that the documentation was submitted late,' declared the official, who declined to give his name. `The collegium of the Ministry of Justice will meet again in 15 to 20 days and the application will be considered then.' The official stressed that the decision to grant or withhold registration lies with the Ministry of Justice. `They are lawyers. It is entirely their decision. I don't know what they will decide.' Asked whether his department had recommended that the Jehovah's Witnesses be granted registration or not, he said that any such recommendation was made by the head of the Department (currently MUSTAFA IBRAHIMOV) and that any recommendation would not be made known to outsiders. Asked for further details on the registration of Cathedral of Praise and the Nehemiah Church, such as when the applications had first been submitted, he responded: `Look, the two have been registered. That's all that matters. The Department has handed the paperwork for the Jehovah's Witnesses to the Ministry of Justice. What else do you need to know?' The official then terminated the discussion. Although the law does not require religious groups to register in order to function, without registration groups cannot legally have a bank account or own property. Applications to register with the Ministry of Justice need prior approval from the Department for Religious Affairs, which reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The Department has obstructed the registration of many groups. In June the Ministry of Justice registered the Catholic Church and a community of Georgian Jews (see KNS 1 July 1999), and several Muslim communities have been registered this year, but otherwise few groups obtain such registration. Much publicity was given earlier in the year of harassment to Jehovah's Witnesses, including fines and dismissals from work. The Jehovah's Witnesses have been fruitlessly seeking registration for several years. In the wake of foreign pressure, the Azerbaijani president HEIDAR ALIYEV recently pledged that the Jehovah's Witnesses would receive official status. Under similar pressure, in November Aliyev revoked deportation orders imposed on nine foreign nationals by local courts in September for participation in religious life while in Azerbaijan. In the latest news, six female Jehovah's Witnesses who lost their jobs in September at the Azerbaijan Gas Refining Factory in Qaradaq because of their religious affiliation were reinstated on 10 November and their financial losses incurred after their removal from their work were reimbursed. The six are MILENA MAKARENKO, ARZU MAMMEDOVA, AIBANIZ MAHMUDOVA, GALINA NASREDDINOVA, OLGA PRITULYAK and SONYA HADJIQARIBOVA. However, as Eldar Zeynalov reports, they are seeking redress in the district court for the failure to correct the information recorded in their `labour books'. (END) All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright: (c) Keston Institute 1999 Reproduction for personal use only. 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