ICCPR Case Digest




Submission: 2017.02.07

View Adopted: 2021.03.16

M. B. Gizi Gurbanova and S. B. Gizi Muradhasilova v. Azerbaijan

Arrest, detention and fine for participation in religious activity of Jehovah’s witness in Azerbaijan

Substantive Issues
  • Arbitrary arrest
  • Arbitrary detention
  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of religion
  • Non-discrimination
  • Protection of minorities
Relevant Articles
  • Article 18.1
  • Article 18.2
  • Article 19.1
  • Article 19.2
  • Article 2 - OP1
  • Article 26
  • Article 27
  • Article 9.1
Full Text


The authors are sisters living in Azerbaijan who are not members of any formal religious community, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have been arrested and detained several times after they had expressed briefly their religious beliefs to a stranger in the street. They have later been charged and fined for carrying out religious activities outside of a registered address. The authorities considered that they had violated the law simply by expressing their views on religion with this conversation, which amounts to a religious activity.

The authors claim a violation of article 9 (1) of the Covenant because they have been arrested and detained several times and for long periods on the basis of a domestic law that is defective, with the intention of punishing them for expressing their religious opinions. They claim a violation of article 18 (1) because the state authorities acted with a clear intention of intimidating them, namely by subjecting them to adopt the islamic faith during detention and arresting them for merely expressing their beliefs. The law requiring them to be registered in a religious association for this purpose must be examined in light of the consequences for the authors. This requirement by the law is also a violation of freedom of expression  in articles 19 (1) and (2). Finally they allege a violation of their right to profess and practise their own religion which is a violation of articles 26-27 of the Covenant.


The Court considers the case admissible as regards article 9 (1), 18 (1), 19 (1) and (2) . It considers that the claim under article 26 and 27 is insufficiently substantiated.


The Committee considers that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the author’s peaceful manifestation disturbed public order within the meaning of article 18 (3). Moreover, the conviction and fine were not even a proportionate response to preserving public safety and would have considerably limited their religious beliefs. The arrest, detention and fining are therefore a violation of article 18 (1) of the Covenant. The Committee considers that the authors were coerced into accompanying the police to the station because there was no information given by them as to why they were being arrested, they were held for 4 hours, they were asked to come back several times and they could not leave freely without facing adverse consequences. The Committee considers that there was uncertainty as to the legal justification for the authors’ arrest and detention. The action of the police lacks appropriateness, predictability and regard for due process guarantees. The Committee finds a violation of article 9 (1) because the arrest and detention are considered arbitrary. The Committee did not deem it necessary to examine whether the same facts constitute a violation of article 19.


The State party is obligated, inter alia, to provide the authors with: adequate compensation, including reimbursement for the portion of the fine paid by Ms. Gurbanova, cancellation of the fines for both authors, reimbursement for court fees related to the cases in question. 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.


August 16, 2021

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