Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Religion in Azerbaijan

Registan's newswire today has two articles on plans for a new religion law in Azerbaijan, replacing one from 1997. I'm glad I won't be trying to bring any religious literature with me when I go there:
"Under Azeri law, printers are not allowed to produce religious literature without specific authorisation for a specified number of copies from the State Committee. Literature brought into Azerbaijan by land or air is subject to inspection and, if more than a handful of books, subject to confiscation and despatch to the State Committee for approval.

"Forum 18 has visited the large room in the International Post Office in Baku where all parcels containing religious literature sent to Azerbaijani residents end up, regardless of where in the country they live. Recipients have to come to the post office, collect one copy of each book, take it to the State Committee, wait for it to produce its expert analysis, collect a letter authorising or not authorising the receipt of the named books specifying how many copies of each they may receive, and (if positive) return to the International Post Office to collect the books."

The process of registering is also cumbersome:
"Another Protestant pastor - who asked not to be identified as he was speaking in his own name, not in that of his church - agreed. 'You can't get registration until you get a denomination, but you can't get a denomination until you have a centre abroad,' he told Forum 18 from Baku on 8 August. 'Why not? What if you don't have a centre abroad that you're subject to? What if you're just a few people getting together to worship?'

"The Baku-based pastor also complained about the way registration is implemented. The regulations setting out the procedure require a 'religious centre' to apply for any individual community's registration, as well as requiring that the ten founding members need to present a document from their place of work. 'It's funny: all ten founders need to get a special paper from where they live and where they work,' the pastor told Forum 18. 'This means you have to tell your employer that you are a founder of a religious organisation. As well as potentially bringing problems for you, it violates the Constitution as your religious affiliation is confidential. This must be corrected.'"

All of this sounds mostly like the remains of Soviet-era bureaucracy and hostility to religion, though discrimination is also caused by resentment of religious minorities. A major concern expressed by the state is the activities of Christian missionaries, particularly Baptists, something I've also read about in neighboring Georgia. People who tie their religious beliefs closely to their cultural identity see this as a threat.


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