Azerbaijan: Detentions for attending religious commemorations  

A case focusing on proportionality and discrimination in applying punishments for violating public health-based limitations.

Juma mosque, Baku, AzerbaijanJuma mosque, Baku, Azerbaijan

Themes: Freedom of religion or belief, legitimate limitations, public health grounds, COVID-19

On August 28, 2020, authorities did not permit Shia believers to gather in mosques or mosque courtyards to mark the Ashura religious commemoration because of COVID-19 restrictions that applied to all public gatherings, regardless of the purpose. Police detained numerous individuals in Shamkir, Yevlakh, Barda, and Lankaran for trying to observe Ashura in spite of the prohibition on gatherings. Judges sentenced at least six individuals to administrative detention ranging from 10 to 30 days.

During 2020, authorities also continued legal action against individuals associated with the unregistered group MUM including through the use of COVID-19 restrictions. Authorities stated the movement mixed religious and political ideology and said they were concerned about its ties to Iran. During the year, authorities placed multiple members of MUM under administrative arrest for allegedly violating COVID-19 regulations and “resisting police.” For example, the Sabunchu District Court sentenced Samir Babayev to 30 days of administrative arrest and the Khatai District Court sentenced Hikmat Agayev to 25 days of administrative arrest.

Facilitators notes

This case focuses on the proportionality of punishments for violating public health based limitations.
You may find the following guidance from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights helpful in relation to this case:

States should only deprive persons of their liberty as a last resort, on grounds that are established by law, and with appropriate procedural safeguards. Deprivation of liberty must be reasonable, necessary and proportionate in the circumstances, even in a state of emergency.
States must enforce any exceptional measures humanely, respecting the principle of proportionality when imposing penalties for violations and ensure that penalties are not imposed in an arbitrary or discriminatory way.

US State Department, 2020 report on international religious freedom
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights