Authorities in Azerbaijan are trying to erase the line between legitimate dissent and religious extremism in an attempt to stifle criticism of their policies.
An ongoing trial in the Baku suburb of Nardaran highlights the trend. The proceedings, which began in August, involve 18 defendants, who face a variety of charges, including illegal weapons possession, conspiracy, murder, terrorism and inciting religious hatred.
The defendants were arrested after a November 2015 police raid on the house of Taleh Bagirzade, a young Shi’a cleric and outspoken government critic who heads the unregistered Movement for Muslim Unity, a moderate group that calls for the use of non-violent means in the pursuit of democratic reform and religious liberty. Seven people were killed during the November raid. Several others were wounded.
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Durna Safarova is a freelance journalist who covers Azerbaijan.