ICCPR Case Digest




Submission: 2017.05.22

View Adopted: 2022.11.01

Rovshan Mursalov et al. v. Azerbaijan

Jehovah’s Witnesses arrested, detained, and fined for possessing religious literature unapproved by domestic law

Substantive Issues
  • Arbitrary arrest
  • Arbitrary detention
  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of religion
  • Interference with one's home
  • Non-discrimination
Relevant Articles
  • Article 13
  • Article 17
  • Article 18
  • Article 19
  • Article 26
  • Article 27
  • Article 9
Full Text


The authors, nationals of Azerbaijan and a national of Georgia, are Jehovah’s Witnesses. The authors were officially registered in Baku as a legal association. They gathered at the home of one of the authors for religious worship and discussion of holy books, when the police entered the home, searched all the authors, confiscated various items without providing a warrant, and made humiliating comments about the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ faith.  The authors were then taken to a police station and detained there for five hours. All the authors except the Georgian national were subsequently fined for carrying out a religious activity outside of the registered address. The district court upheld the conviction, and the authors filed appeals to the Baku Court of Appeal, which were dismissed. The author, who is a national of Georgia, was found guilty of spreading religious propaganda by foreigners and persons without citizenship, on the day of the court hearing he was held in custody overnight and deported to Georgia the next day. He filed an appeal later, which was dismissed.

The authors complained that their rights under article 9 (1) (arbitrary detention), article 17 (1) (right to privacy and security of home), article 18 (1) and (3) (freedom of religion), article 19 (2) and (3) (freedom of expression) and articles 26 and 27 (discrimination) of the Covenant were violated; the author, who is a national of Georgia, also complained that his right under article 13 (expulsion) of the Covenant was violated.


The Committee concluded that the authors had exhausted all the available domestic remedies and considered their claims under articles 9 (1), 13, 17 (1), 18 (1) and (3), 19 (2) and (3), 26 and 27 of the Covenant admissible.


The Committee concluded that the punishment imposed on the authors for holding a peaceful religious service in a private home amounted to a limitation of their right to manifest their religion under article 18 (1) of the Covenant, and that neither the domestic authorities nor the State party had demonstrated that the limitation represented a proportionate measure necessary to serve a legitimate purpose identified in article 18 (3) of the Covenant. The Committee further noted that, under the Covenant, detention does not require a minimum duration in order to be arbitrary or unlawful nor a formal arrest. The Committee noted the authors’ claim that they were not free to leave police custody during the relevant period which was not contested by the State.

In the light of its finding that there has been a violation of articles 9 (1) and 18 (1) and (3) of the Covenant, the Committee decided not to examine separately the authors’ claims under articles 13, 17, 19, 26 and 27 of the Covenant.


The State party should:

  • (a) provide the authors with adequate compensation, including for any legal expenses incurred by them;
  • (b) 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: 1 May 2023

More information on the case:

Refworld | Azerbaijan: Fines, deportations, criminal trials to punish meetings for worship and study

HRW – Human Rights Watch: “WORLD REPORT 2000 - Azerbaijan”, Document #2023733 - ecoi.net

By: Anna Gorodetskaya

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