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Azerbaijani Police Detain Followers Of Unregistered Sect

Members of the Nurchilar group follow the teachings of Fethullah Gulen.

Members of the Nurchilar group follow the teachings of Fethullah Gulen.

Azerbaijani religious rights activists protested the detention of 11 people in the town of Ganja for participating in illegal gatherings and spreading religious propaganda, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Interior Ministry spokesman Ehsan Zahidov told RFE/RL that the group was detained after neighbors complained about illegal meetings at the home of Ganja resident Elmir Mehdiyev.

Zahidov said all but three were released after testifying. He said it was confirmed that the group was involved in disseminating illegal religious propaganda supporting Nurchilar, a new interpretation of Islam promoted by ethnic Turkish politician Fethullah Gulen.

Gunduz Ismayilov, of the State Committee for Affairs with Religious Entities, said two "Nur" communities lost their registration two years ago but have reportedly continued to hold their gatherings in secret.

Amendments to the law on religious freedom say no religious community numbering five people or more can operate without being officially registered.

Ilgar Ibrahimoghlu, the head of the Azerbaijani religious rights watchdog DEVAMM, said both the amendments and the police actions are unconstitutional.

"People must enjoy freedom of assembly and religious rights wherever they want and in the way they prefer," Ibrahimoghlu said.