Legal status for Jehovah’s Witnesses further jeopardized in Azerbaijan

BAKU, Azerbaijan—The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan upheld a lower court decision refusing to give Jehovah’s Witnesses full legal status on February 1, 2012. Two years ago, the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations (SCWRA) refused to reregister the local religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. With all domestic options exhausted, the Witnesses’ last recourse lies with an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

In May 2011, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan returned the case to the Baku Court of Appeal with the order to investigate violations found in the trial court’s decision. However, the Court of Appeal ignored the order and simply rendered the same decision to deny reregistration. With the latest ruling, the Supreme Court has apparently forgotten about the violations it had earlier discovered. The Court also failed to refer to the case law of the ECHR, which has consistently held in cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, that “a refusal by the domestic authorities to grant legal-entity status to an association of individuals amounts to an interference with the applicant’s exercise of their right to freedom of association.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses were first registered as a religious community in Azerbaijan on December 22, 1999. On February 7, 2002, they received reregistration. Under Azerbaijani law, in order to liquidate the religious community’s existing registration, the SCWRA would have to obtain a court order. Doing so would make Azerbaijan the only country in the Council of Europe where Jehovah’s Witnesses are without legal status.

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