- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2008

S. Rob Sobhani’s opinion piece (“An American friend,” Op-Ed, Monday) could not be more wrong about Azerbaijan’s history of squelching religious freedom.

The Department of State, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others, have documented Azerbaijan’s dismal record of violating international human-rights standards regarding religious freedom. Azerbaijan suppresses all Muslim groups that refuse to allow their leaders to be appointed by the state bureaucracy.

Our client, the Juma Mosque in central Baku, was shut down because it was associated with the democracy movement and refused to allow the government to appoint its leaders. The mosque’s imam, Ilgar Allahverdiev, is a well-known human-rights activist. He was jailed, and after release, remains under a Soviet-style travel ban that has prevented him from appearing as an invited speaker at United Nations and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe human-rights conferences.

Azerbaijan also targets “nontraditional” religious groups, including Baha’is, Baptists, Pentecostals, Hare Krishnas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, nondenominational Protestant groups, and Seventh-Day Adventists. These groups have been subjected to police raids on worship services, jailing of their leaders, confiscation of religious literature and a host of other violations that make Dr. Sobhani’s claims of “religious tolerance” ring hollow.

The United States should only consider negotiating a “strategic grand bargain” like the one Mr. Sobhani is lobbying for once Azerbaijan starts protecting human rights for religious believers in Azerbaijan.



ERIC RASSBACH

National litigation director

Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Washington

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