Muslims call for end to Azerbaijan headscarf ban

Baku, Azerbaijan - Religious activists in predominantly Shiite Muslim Azerbaijan Monday called for officials to change rules barring headscarves in ID photos, saying that the law violated observant women's civil rights.

Women who refuse to remove their headscarves for passport and other identification photos have unequal access to everything from jobs and healthcare to travel and their right to vote, members of the Center for the Protection of Freedom of Conscience and Religion said at a gathering in Baku.

"In reality their rights are limited though the constitution and number of international documents give them the right to cover their heads," the center said in a statement read at the meeting.

Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, a banned opposition cleric with a sizable following in Azerbaijan, urged the secular state's head of the committee for relations with religious groups, Hidayat Orujov, "to address the issue quickly."

"For nine years thousands of observant women have been barred of most of their rights," Ibrahimoglu said.

Some of the 30 women wearing the hijab, or religious headscarf, at the meeting said that many of them could not receive identification documents needed in daily affairs because of the rules and that they continued to use Soviet-era documents that were no longer valid.

One woman, who gave her name only as Jefer, said that she was not able to register her marriage or receive a birth certificate for her son because she lacked proper identification.