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The problems of the Greater Grace Protestant Church

Mr Elshad Huseyn Isgandarov

The State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations

12 Ahmad Javad Street

Gate III

1000 Baku



Dear Mr Isgandarov

You may be aware of the growing international criticism of the actions of the Government of Azerbaijan through its State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations towards the Greater Grace Protestant Church based in Baku.

In particular, uncompromising pressure has been used by the Government to cause problems and eliminate the Church from the public life of the nation. Whilst the Church has not committed any act against the law of the land, the Government used the so-called system of re-registration in order to achieve its aims in disrupting peaceful activities of the Church.

Serious concerns in this regard have been expressed by a number of Members of the US Congress. On 12 June 2012, Congressmen Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fl.) submitted an official letter to Hon. Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of International Religious Freedom which is part of the U.S. Department of State bringing to her attention the issue of religious freedom in Azerbaijan and asking her to take action. The problems of the Greater Grace Protestant Church are now being considered by the State Department.

It is now well known that the system of re-registration of church licences has been used by the authorities in Azerbaijan to suppress Protestant churches on a number of occasions. The method of re-registration has also been used to deal with “unwanted” groups by the Government of Azerbaijan on many occasions. As you know, delays in registration of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have given rise to several applications against the Government. Thus, in Ramazanov and Others v Azerbaijan  (No. 44363/02) 1/2/07, Ismayilov v Azerbaijan (No. 4439/04) 17/1/08 and  Nasibova v Azerbaijan (No. 4307/04) 18/10/07 the significant delays in the registration of NGOs were found to violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

The last UN Human Rights Committee report on Azerbaijan (CCPR/C/AZE/CO/3) expressed serious concern that “religious communities [in Azerbaijan] are requested to register and obtain legal personality in order to be able to function freely, as the lack of legal personality may prevent such communities from the enjoyment of a large number of rights”.

Also, Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe reported (CommDH(2010)21) following his visit to Azerbaijan from 1 to 5 March 2010 that “difficulties have reportedly been faced by some religious communities in obtaining re-registration”. The report continues saying that the Commissioner “expressed concerns about recent legislative changes which could limit the freedom of association in Azerbaijan”. The report gives a clear picture of various state-constructed legal obstacles being used by the Government of Azerbaijan to limit religious freedom of minorities. Specifically, the legal requirement of re-registration as currently used by the authorities to suppress Protestant Churches and eliminate them from the public life of the nation.

Although we welcome the aim of the Government of Azerbaijan to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, we would expect the guarantees of freedom of religion and equality for all its citizens regardless of their religious affiliation. You are fully aware of the following facts:

On 13 August 1992, Azerbaijan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights containing binding commitments to safeguard religious rights “without distinction of any kind”;

On 12 November 1995, Azerbaijan adopted its Constitution (amended on 24 August 2002), which, according to its Article 147, carries the highest legal force in the country. Articles 18, 25, 47, 48 and 71(IV) of the Constitution safeguard rights of peaceful religious minorities, including Protestant Christians;

On 25 January 2001, Azerbaijan signed the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which includes Articles 9 and 14 safeguarding the rights to freedom of conscience and religion and their free manifestation.

We are also hopeful that you will act in accordance with your promise to Cardinal Fernando Filoni and his Vatican delegation, which you met on 11 June 2012, that Azerbaijan remains a country where people of different religions and nations live peacefully, and where the state allows them to practice their faith without state intervention. 

We wish to draw your attention to the fact that the religious denomination, to which the Greater Grace Protestant Church belongs, encourages people to live peaceful and law abiding lives with due regard to their neighbour. The Church is not a threat to public order and stability in Azerbaijan. We urge the Government and, specifically, the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations to protect the freedom of Protestant churches in Azerbaijan and facilitate the progress of their peaceful existence.

We are grateful for your consideration of this important matter.

Yours Sincerely,

Russian Ministries (USA)

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