On the eve of an Amnesty International report that takes Azerbaijan to task for restrictions on individual liberty, Azerbaijani legislators on November 15 imposed stiff state controls on religious activity. Political analysts see the government’s meddling in the realm of faith as an effort to limit neighboring Iran’s ability to influence Azerbaijani affairs. Some add that Baku’s tactical choice could easily create more problems than it solves.
The amendments to Azerbaijan’s criminal and administrative codes, adopted with only three dissenting votes, impose potential multi-year prison terms and up to an eightfold-increase in fines for the distribution of unsanctioned religious literature, “forced” religious activity and the performance of religious rituals by individuals educated abroad without the government’s permission.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance reporter in Baku and a board member of the Open Society Assistance Foundation-Azerbaijan.