U.S. Says Azerbaijan Is Stifling Religious Freedom

Azerbaijan has unleashed a wave of repression to consolidate control over Muslims and other churches and religions, according to a commission charged with advising the US government.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a statement received Tuesday that it was "deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation for religious freedom in Azerbaijan."

The commission said the incidents were "part of a pattern over the past few years of tightening government control on Islamic practice and restrictions on the activities of minority religious communities, including Protestant Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishnas."

"The Azeri government is clearly moving in the wrong direction with respect to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief in Azerbaijan," said commission chair Preeta Bansal.

The US Congress created the commission in 1998 to monitor freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief abroad and to make recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress.