View Adopted: 2021.03.25
The authors are nationals of Azerbaijan who claim that the State Party has violated their Covenant rights under articles 9 (1), 18 (1,3), 19 (2-3), 21, 22 (1), 26 and 27.
The authors are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination whose members are known for their preaching activities. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religious minority in Azerbaijan, where the population is predominantly Muslim and although the authors belong to the aforementioned faith yet they are not officially registered with the Government.
On 18 September 2018, the police after initiating investigations at the author’s residence, interrogated and charged them under the domestic law for possessing religious literature that had not been approved by the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations and carrying out a religious activity outside of a registered address. The District Court initiated the trial and ultimately fined each author. The authors filed appeals before the Administrative-Economic Board, Shaki court and the Supreme court, which have been dismissed.
The authors claim a violation of article 9 (1) of the Covenant as they were arrested for peacefully manifesting their religious beliefs and exercising the right to religious association. They claim that by conducting a police raid and violating the sanctity of the author’s private home, their guaranteed rights under article 18 (1) and (3) are violated. By interfering with their right to collectively engage in teaching and religious discourse, the authors claim a violation of article 19 (2) and (3). Further, unlawfully searching and seizing property and prosecuting, convicting and fining the authors for assembling together for religious worship, the authors’ claim violation of their rights under articles 21 and 22 of the Covenant. Finally, they claim violation of their rights under articles 26 and 27 of the Covenant since they were subjected to discrimination based on their religious minority beliefs.
Since the authors did not raise claims under article 22 (1) of the Covenant before the domestic courts, accordingly, this part of the communication is inadmissible. Further, claims under article 26 and 27 are insufficiently substantiated for the purposes of admissibility under article 2 of the Optional Protocol. In absence of the State party contesting admissibility, the Committee considers that the authors have substantiated their claims under articles 9 (1), 18 (1) and (3), 19 (2) and (3) and 21 of the Covenant.
In relation to the authors’ claims under the freedom of religion, the Committee stated that the State party failed to invoke any specific grounds to support the proportionality of the restrictions imposed on the authors as identified under article 18 (3) of the Covenant. Further, the Committee concluded that by arresting, detaining, convicting and fining the authors for possessing religious literature and holding a peaceful religious service in a private home, the State party violated their rights under article 18 (1) of the Covenant. The Committee noted that detention under the Covenant does not require first, a minimum duration in order to be arbitrary or unlawful and second, a formal arrest (as defined under domestic law) as claimed by the authors. Accordingly, the authors were arrested and detained within the meaning of article 9 of the Covenant. Under the right to liberty and security, the committee observed that the police officers of the State party by threatening to imprison, criticize and not inform the authors of the potential harm caused by their religious acts lacked appropriateness, predictability and regard for due process guarantees. Hence, it concluded that the State party violated their rights under article 9 (1) of the Covenant. Finally, the Committee does not deem it necessary to examine violations under articles 19 or 21 of the Covenant.
The State party is under an obligation to provide the author with an effective remedy. This requires it to make full reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated. Accordingly, the State party is obligated, inter alia, to provide authors with adequate compensation, including reimbursement for the fines imposed and for the court fees related to questions of law, to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future.
Deadline: 21st September 2021
By Aakrishti Kumar