Azerbaijan - still defying commitment to allow for conscientious objection

According to a report by Forum-18 News agency, Azerbaijan is still not implementing its commitment to the Council of Europe to legislate for conscientious objection. Samir Huseynov, a 22-years old Jehovah's Witness, is still imprisoned for his conscientious objection to military service.

Huseynov's prosecution and the failure to introduce alternative non-military service violate Azerbaijan's specific commitment to the Council of Europe. When Azerbaijan joined in 2001, it pledged to introduce alternative service by January 2003, but did not do so.

"This commitment has not yet been fulfilled," Denis Bribosia, the Council of Europe representative in Baku, told Forum 18 on 22 January. "We at the Council of Europe think that people should not be jailed solely for their religious or conscientious behaviour."

Bribosia pointed out that in April 2007 the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution again urging the Azerbaijani authorities to adopt a law on alternative service "without further delay in line with their accession commitment". "That's nine months ago," he noted. "The government informed us that it is still considering the adoption of the alternative service law, but no law has yet been adopted."

Meanwhile, friends of Huseynov, the imprisoned Jehovah's Witness, told Forum 18 that his transfer from prison in Gyanja [Gäncä] to a labour camp in Baku is apparently imminent. "At the end of December there were some talks of him being transferred from the prison to a labour colony in the capital Baku," one Jehovah's Witness who preferred not to be identified told Forum 18 on 22 January. "Samir was still in Gyanja definitely as of 21 January."

Despite calls on 21 and 22 January, prison officials refused to tell Forum 18 if and when Huseynov is to be transferred.

The Geranboy District Court in western Azerbaijan sentenced Huseynov on 4 October 2007 to 10 months in prison for evading compulsory military service, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. He was punished under Article 321.1 of the Criminal Code, which prescribes a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment. "Huseynov was prosecuted despite the constitutional guarantee of alternative service," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.

Huseynov was born in Azerbaijan but had lived in Russia for some years before returning to Azerbaijan with his family. When he was called up in summer 2007 he told the military commissariat he was prepared to do a civilian alternative service. He was not arrested in the run-up to the October court hearing. He was detained immediately following the hearing and sent to the prison in the nearby city of Gyanja to begin his sentence.

Officials refused to give Huseynov a copy of the written verdict within the prescribed period. "This was a deliberate trick to make his appeal difficult, as this had to be filed within 20 days," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. Huseynov signed an appeal on 22 October, which he sent to the appeal court via the prison administration. However, on 5 November the court sent it back on the grounds that it was written in Russian. Huseynov re-wrote it in Azerbaijani and asked the prison administration to send it to the court on 8 November. However, on 26 November the court rejected the appeal as it said it had been received after the deadline for lodging appeals.

Sources: Forum 18 News Service, 22 January 2008