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Azeri Muslims Face Jail for Praying


Five Azerbaijani Muslims are facing the threat of imprisonment for five-years if convicted, after police raided a home in Baku city where the Muslim men were praying.

“These are normal Muslims who are not involved in politics and simply conduct prayers,” the lawyer for four of the five men Asabali Mustafayev told Forum 18 News Service.

The five men have been detained since April 2014 when masked policemen stormed a home owned by one of them in Baku, interrupting their prayer.

Three of the five defendants, Eldeniz Hajiyev, Ismayil Mammadov and Revan Sabzaliyev, have fielded complaints to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg over their months in pre-trial detention in 2014 in the National Security Ministry (NSM) secret police investigation prison in the capital.

While the trial of the men is expected to last for two more months, a verdict to Zohrab Shikhaliyev, the house owner, is scheduled on 18 February in Sumgait.

Shikhaliyev faces up to three- year imprisonment on charges of installing a prayer room in his home and seizing weapons, a claim that his friends insists to deny.

“The men conducted no criminal activity, everyone agrees,” lawyer Mustafayev insisted.

Besides prison sentences, the Muslim men will be punished with massive fines under the Administrative Code.

Muslims, mostly Shiite, make up more than 93 percent of the former Soviet republic’s population of 8.3 million people.

The rest of the population adheres to other faiths or are non-religious.

Like much of the ex-Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has witnessed a limited religious revival since independence in 1991.

The government of President Ilham Aliyev has been facing accusations of tightening controls on the Muslim religion in the country.

In mid-February 2010, the government ordered all state employees to remove Islam-related symbols -– like Qur’anic verses — from their offices.

The state also requires all religious communities to register with the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations.

The government also mandates that all religious groups align their teachings with the spiritual authority of the Caucasus Board of Muslims (CBM), a state-backed board of scholars which controls mosques in the country.

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