An 'amendment' to religion

Baku, Azerbaijan - This year changes related with activities of religious communities and religious literature will be introduced in the "Law on Freedom of Religion."

The amendments that are being prepared will allow the state to take activities of religious organisations in Azerbaijan under stricter control.

Moreover, the amendments to the law provide control over media, including the Internet, that propagate religious views.

Rafik Aliyev, head of the state committee for religious organisations, has stated this in an interview to the "Echo" newspaper.

According to him, currently the set of changes in the law is not being revealed, because it is yet to be discussed. However, he has said that a "Law on Alternative Military Draft" must be passed this year, in which interests of religious communities present in Azerbaijan will be reflected.

Besides, the rights and duties of religious communities will be determined and some issues of their central organisation will be resolved. "Presently these ideas are quite vague. Clearly, the Department of Muslims of the Caucasus will be the centre of the Muslim community. As for other communities it is not clear yet. Their central organs must be defined that can be located both in Azerbaijan and beyond," - he has said.

Another important moment that will make part of the new law is the registration of the religious communities. It should be made more concrete, as well as the items social activities of the religious organisations in their charters. "The status of the state committee will be defined as well," - he has added.

In general, Rafik Aliyev has observed that the new law must reflect changes that have taken place in the country during the last 13 years since the day of passing the "Law on Freedom of Conscience." According to him, the amended law must comply with international conventions and provisions. "The document must regard all aspects of activities of the religious organisations, at least for 10 years ahead," - Aliyev has said.

However, the head of the state committee has added that also changes related with missionary activities of some religious organisations will also be introduced. According to him, the law must define which religious convictions are acceptable for the Azerbaijani society. "It is important, because today there are organisations in the country, whose convictions are close to extremism, radicalism, and fanaticism. At the same time a clear definition should be given to the notion of "religious convictions" itself and to which of them can be useful for the society," - Aliyev has observed citing examples from Pakistan, East, and South East Asia that seem very doubtful to the state committee.

At the same time, according to Aliyev, it is important that apart from religious communities also the so called sects are registered in the country, which, of course, exist in our country, but operate clandestinely. "We cannot limit all types of religious organisations to the notion of a "community," - the head of state committee is sure.

Rafik Aliyev also brought clarity into the issue of religious literature. In his view it is a very important issue that must also be reflected in the updated edition of the law. "All religious literature from small brochures to 500-page books must get expert estimations in the state committee. Also newspapers, magazines, and electronic media entirely dedicated to religious activities and sometimes propagating different religious views are published in the country. Concrete terms must be introduced on the basis of which media or literature would be called religious or not."

Today, according to Rafik Aliyev, the state committee does not have an opportunity to punish administratively people committing crimes in the domain of religious sentiments. "Even if a foreigner comes to our country to carry out religious propaganda, we cannot even deport him because we don't have a law on deportation. All these moments will be reflected in the law," - Aliyev concluded.

At the same time, the introduction of changes in the "Law on Freedom of Conscience" is entirely supported by all religions present in the country. Thus, according to Sergiy, press secretary of the Russian Orthodox Church, this decision is quite timely. "All moments regarding the religious activities of the state must be concretised in the face of the danger that extremist organisations can emerge in the country," - father Sergiy said to the "Echo."

The same opinion was expressed by Semen Ikhiylov, head of the Jewish mountaineer community of Azerbaijan.

According to him, the introduction of the changes and amendments in the law on activities of religious communities in Azerbaijan must protect citizens from the influence of dangerous totalitarian and radical groups that disguise themselves as religious organisations.

The Department of Muslims of the Caucasus shares concerns of other communities and it is in favour of strengthening control over activities of the religious associations.

"The state committee does the same thing as religious structures in other states of the world, creating conditions for free religious practices and preventing emergence of extremism in the society," - MP Aidyn Mirzazade, member of the ruling party "Yeni Azerbaijan" told the "Echo."

He said that lately some groups under disguise of religious organisations are conducting extremist activities. In general he is sure that the changes in the law on the freedom of conscience are justified by our times and will be supported by the society.