View Adopted: 2021.10.18
The authors are nationals of Azerbaijan born in 1995 and 1977, respectively. They claimed that, by charging, convicting and fining them for operating a religious association outside of a registered legal address, the State party violated their rights under articles 14 (1), (2), (3) (a), (b), (d), (e) and (g), 18 (1), 19 (1) and (2), 26 and 27 of the Covenant.
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. Although the authors belong to the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, they are not members of the Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious organization that is officially registered with the Government and whose legal address is in Baku. The authors were held and questioned by the police officers for multiple hours without an explanation. On 17 November 2016, they were taken to court under the charges of operating a religious association outside of a registered legal address and were ordered to pay a fine, after the court found them guilty of violating the Code of Administrative Offences. The authors filed an appeal against the decision, which was rejected by the court.
The Committee considered that it was not precluded by article 5 (2) (b) of the Optional Protocol from examining those claims. It found the authors’ claims under article 14 (3) (b-d-e) and (g) of the Covenant inadmissible as the claims related to these provisions were not raised before the domestic courts or not sufficiently substantiated. However, it considered that the authors have sufficiently substantiated their remaining claims under articles 14 (1), (2) and (3) (a), 18 (1), 19 (1) and (2), 26 and 27 of the Covenant for the purpose of admissibility.
The Committee noted that the State party violated the rights of the authors under article 14 (3) (a) of the Covenant, as the State failed to issue notice or frame charges before directly taking them from the police station to the courtroom on 17 November 2016. The Committee also gave due weight to the authors’ allegations, to the extent that they are properly substantiated, in the absence of contrary evidence from the State party, and considered that the facts before it indicated that the District Court judge did not act in an impartial way. In the light of the aforementioned circumstances, the Committee considered that the State party violated the authors’ rights to be heard by a fair and impartial tribunal under article 14 (1) of the Covenant.
Regarding the article 18, the Committee observed that the State party failed to refer to any specific circumstances where the authors’ actions could have created or exacerbated serious inter-religious tensions or an atmosphere of hostility and hatred between religious communities in Azerbaijan, such that those actions could have represented a threat to public safety, order, health or morals within the meaning of article 18 (3) of the Covenant, relying on General Comment No. 22 (1993), and concluded that the State party had violated their rights under article 18 (1) of the Covenant. In the light of its findings, the Committee did not deem it necessary to examine whether the same facts constitute a violation of articles 14(2), 19 (1), 19 (2), 26 or 27 of the Covenant.
The State party is under an obligation to provide the authors with an effective remedy and is required to make full reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated, in the form of adequate compensation, including reimbursement for the fines imposed and for court fees. The State party is also under an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future, including by reviewing its domestic legislation, regulations and/or practices with a view to ensuring that the rights under the Covenant may be fully enjoyed in the State party.
Deadline: 16th April 2022
By Sugandha Sawhney