Category: censorship



10 January

The press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan stated in the report that on 10 January during a joint raid of the police, the State Security Service and the State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO) it was revealed as indicated “the fact of organization of illegal religious meetings by nine citizens of the Russian Federation” in one of the houses in Binagadi district of Baku. In the course of search of the house, law enforcement officers found and seized five religious books (propagating Christianity), 113 CDs and 28,000 business cards.

The press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a statement “In accordance with the Article 515 “Violation of creation and religious structures activity regulation” of the Code of Administrative Offences, a protocol has been drawn up with regard to Russian citizens who were deported from the country”. However, the SCWRO report said that the protocol had been sent to the court, the detainees had been fined and only then deported to Russia. The press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not provide any other details of that incident. But according to the data provided by the staff of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) in Azerbaijan, that incident was related to “Jehovah’s Witnesses” supporters who came to Azerbaijan from Russia.

25 January

A year ago, on 28 January 2018, SCWRO banned publication of the book “This is no in Islam” by the famous theologian Elshad Miri, in which the author examined myths existing in Islam and Koran (there is no child or temporary marriage, magic, etc. in Islam). In response, the theologian, having regarded the ban on publishing his book as a censorship and violation of freedom of speech, sued SCWRO. As expected, Elshad Miri lost the case. But he did not give up. During this time, his book was published in Azerbaijani language in Turkey, and in Russian in Kyrgyzstan but now SCWRO did not give permission to sell the book. The theologian kept fighting and on 25 January 2019, Elshad Miri sent an appeal addressed to SCWRO requesting a permission to publish and sell the book. In response, according to, SCWRO stated that the book contains provocative and offensive statements that distort the religious situation in the country and disturb the believers’ feelings. Therefore, the SCWRO experts gave a negative feedback last year, based on which the book was not allowed for publication and sale.




25 February

Safgan Mammadov and Gulnara Mammadova, a Baptist couple, live with their two young children in the south of Azerbaijan in the Sabirabad district of Qalaqayin village. The Norwegian organization Forum 18 has reported that the couple’s misfortunes began shortly after their six-year-old son brought to school some Christian booklets and offered them to his classmates on 24 February. The school counsellor noticed this and came over to the family house in order to check what the booklets were about. As soon as it was clear that it was a religious literature she called the police.

The day after, Safgan Mammadov left to work in Georgia for several months, and his wife Gulnara was summoned to the police. She had to go there with her two little children. At the police station, the officers asked her “what religious sect she belonged to”, where she had obtained the booklets.

The interrogation has been lasted about six hours. Then the police brought Mammadova home to search the house. As a result, the police confiscated 106 books and booklets, including the Bible and the New Testament, as well as CDs with Christian songs.

The police then asked about the gift bags handed out to 12 children and their parents at a New Year’s Eve meeting at the Mammadov House on December 31, 2018, which contained candies and a cartoon of Jesus Christ’s birth. Those gift bags were provided by the Baptist pastor Hafiz Bakhshaliyev from the neighbouring town of Shirvan.

After that, the police of Qalaqayin village called pastor Hafiz Bakhshaliyev for an interrogation. He had been questioned for more than six hours and forced to write a statement, in which he specified that all books had been subject to mandatory state censorship and had the necessary permission from the State Committee.

Pastor Bakhshaliyev was then taken to a bus stop on the outskirts of Shirvan by the Galagain police officers, where the 12 police officers from Shirvan had been waiting for him. Four of them accompanied him to his residence, where they searched his house and seized all Christian literature they could find, including the Bible and the New Testament.



Theologian Elshad Miri with his banned book «There is no in Islam»

14 March

The Board of Muslim of Caucasus (BMC) circulated the text in connection with the theologian Elshad Miri’s statement that appeared in mass media on 13 March, in which it was written that the BMC management didn’t not give a permission to print the book “There is no in Islam”. In response, BMC called these accusations groundless and pointed out, “Elshad Miri citing unidentified representatives of the State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations, accused BMC of not giving him permission to print the book – from his interview published on the website We ask E. Miri to reveal the specific names of the people he referred to in connection with the accusations against BMC. If the names are not announced, then groundless Miri’s accusations will be clearly regarded as attempt to cast a shadow on the relations between the state and religion, create disagreements between BMC and the State Committee, and undermine relations between religious movements,” as specified in the statement of BMC.



10 April

According the Norwegian organization Forum 18, on 27 February 2019 the believer Mammad Ramazanov from Zaqatala, a city in the northwest of the country, was fined by the local district court under the Article 516.0.2 (violation of the legislation on freedom of religion, sale of religious literature, audio and video materials, religious goods and products, imposes a fine from 2,000 to 2,500 manat or 1,180-1,475 USD) of the Code of Administrative Offences of  Azerbaijan Republic.

Having disagreed with the decision, M. Ramazanov filed an appeal. However, the Judge of the Shaki Appeals Court, Rafail Aliyev, objected the claim.

16 April

In February, the police searched the house of a Baptist couple of Safgan and Gulnara Mammadovs’ residing in Qalaqayin village, Sabirabad district, in the south of Azerbaijan and confiscated 106 books and booklets, including the Bible and the New Testament, as well as the CDs with Christian songs.

On 10 April, the police Major Shohrat Salmanov from the Qalaqayin village police department drew up a report on the commission of the crime by a married couple of believers, stating that they kept religious books at home, which were distributed as New Year gifts on 31 December 2018. This was the basis for Safgan and Gulnara Mammadovs’ accusation of violating the Articles 451 and 515.0.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Azerbaijan Republic. Afterwards all the materials were sent to the court.

The Article 451 provides for the punishment of “the possession for the purpose of sale or distribution, shipment outside of production place, the sale or distribution in any other way of goods, products and information materials, which must have a control mark but haven’t obtained it”. The following goods, such as alcohol, tobacco and religious literature are subject to the State control, and fined of up to 5,000 manat (approximately 2,950 USD), for individuals, for violation of this article. The Article 515.0.3 provides for the punishment of “clergymen and members of religious associations holding special meetings for children and youth, as well as organizing or conducting of organized labor, reading or other clubs and groups activities not related to religious ceremonies” with a fine of 1,500 to 2,000 manat whereas an average monthly salary is 585 manat.

On 16 April, the Judge Nuraddin Bagirov of the Sabirabad District Court presided the hearing at the trial concerning the cases against Sabirabad and Gulnara Mammadova. He found them both guilty of violating the Articles 451 and 515.0.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Azerbaijan and fined the spouses for the amount of 1,500 manat (approximately 885 USD) each, i.e. 3,000 manat (approximately 1,700 USD). This is a huge amount even for people working in the capital. And for the residents in the province it is hard to imagine!

One of the local Christians, familiar with the case of the Mammadovs’ spouses, told the Norwegian organization Forum 18 that “the court’s decision completely contradicts the laws of Azerbaijan and once again proves that the case was falsified and ordered by representatives of the State Committee”.



23 September

The State Committee of the Azerbaijan Republic on Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO) Committee held a conference in Baku on 23 September entitled “Religious Expert Analysis: Law and Practice”, it announced on its website the same day. Also taking part were publishers, as well as representatives of the Spiritual Values Promotion Foundation (which is subject to the State Committee) and the Caucasian Muslim Board.

Deputy Chair of the SCWRO Gunduz Ismayilov told the conference that “harmful literature” was rarely encountered because of the law mandating censorship and the  close cooperation between the State Committee and publishers and authors.

Nahid Mammadov, the head of the State Committee’s “Religious Expert Analysis” (Censorship) Department, claimed the state censorship was in line with international practice. He claimed that censorship also protected against piracy and tax evasion.

He maintained that the control stickers enhance trust in religious literature. “Every citizen reads religious literature with the appropriate sticker and refuses any other literature offered to them,” the State Committee website cited him as saying. “It also means that our citizen, without knowing the contents of the book, will be able to determine whether the text of the book is malicious thanks to the control sticker.”

Nahid Mammadov also told the conference that 42 shops across the country have the required state license to sell religious books and items, though more than 100 exist. He complained that the unlicensed shops “create certain problems”, though he does not appear to have specified what these are.

Nahid Mammadov said that the SCWRO had banned the import of 63 out of 1,603 publications in 2017; 52 out of 1,704 in 2018; and 158 out of 2,412 in January to September 2019. The State Committee had banned the publication in Azerbaijan of 4 out of 214 publications in 2017; 26 out of 197 in 2018; and 17 out of 192 in January to September 2019.



14 November

Educational religious course building Classrooms
Sleeping rooms The confiscated religious literature

According to the State Security Service (SSS) Press Service and the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO), on 14 November, it was identified “an illegal religious training course” in one of the houses in Lokbatan settlement, Garadagh district of Baku, as a result of the raid of these state structures officials in collaboration with the Interior Ministry representatives.

In the course of the premises inspection and search, it was found that the facility was used for the religious studies and attended by 26 individuals, including the minors. The building had been well equipped and besides classrooms for studying the prohibited religious literature, it also had an accommodation for non-resident students.

Upon completion of the inspection and search, it was drawn up an administrative protocol concerning the founders of these illegal religious training courses, Elton Abdullayev and Elsevar Qurbanov. All found religious literature was also confiscated. The protocol was sent to the court.

At the same time, the law enforcement authorities initiated a criminal case related to the matter. The confiscated religious literature is believed to be evidence of an unregistered madrasa (the Islamic religious education institution) of Sunnis from Nurchu or related to the Turkish theologian Fathullah Gulen.




9 December

Mubariz Qurbanly

212 titles of religious literature have been published in Azerbaijan in the recent years. According to the Trend Agency, it was reported by Mubariz Qurbanly, the chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO). Further, the SCWRO chairman said that the total number of these books exceeded 550 thousand. In 2019, there were found more than 50 titles of the unauthorized for import religious literature.