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WATCH: Violence erupts as police break up the religious procession in Baku.

Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry says that 15 people were detained on February 13 for disturbing the peace during a march held by Shi’ite Muslims, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reports.

A Shi’ite Muslim group affiliated with the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan told RFE/RL that they tried to mark the death of the Prophet Muhammad as they do each year by walking to the Alley of Martyrs in Baku and praying there.

The marchers initially received permission for the procession on the condition that they neither display flags and banners nor shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great.) But in spite of the permission granted, police blocked the procession and clashed with participants, arresting 15. Injuries were reported on both sides.

The deputy chair of the youth organization of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, Bilal Ahmedov, told RFE/RL that police have initiated criminal cases against eight of the marchers for resisting arrest.

RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reports that clashes between religious groups and security forces are increasingly common in Baku as the government seeks to impose greater control on religious life. The government has recently passed new restrictions on the activities of mosques and the teaching of the Koran, and is seeking to create a requirement that mullahs be licensed by the state before offering religious teachings in mosques.

Baku is also in the process of re-registering all religious groups. On March 18, a national referendum approved a series of amendments to the constitution, including two amendments limiting the spread and propagation of religion. In May, the parliament passed an amended law on freedom of religion, which could result in additional restrictions to the system of registration for religious groups.

The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report noted some deterioration in the status of religious freedoms in Azerbaijan in 2009.

Azerbaijan’s Muslim population is approximately 65 percent Shi'ite and 35 percent Sunni, according to the State Committee on Work with Religious Structures (SCWRS).
Ali Karrubi displays some of the wounds he says he received when he was tortured while in custody.
Fatemeh Karrubi, a prominent Iranian political activist and wife of opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi, is calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to ensure that those responsible for the torture of postelection detainees are brought to justice, after revealing that her son is the victim of such abuse himself.

In an open letter posted today on the Sahamnews website, Karrubi says 37-year-old Ali Karrubi, who was detained on February 11 during rallies marking the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, was beaten and threatened with rape while in custody.

She says her son was detained after he had tried to intervene after security forces and plainclothes agents attacked his father. Ali Karrubi was then taken to Amir al Momenin mosque. She says security forces, after realizing his identity, separated Ali Karrubi from the other detainees and beat him severely.

Fatemeh Karrubi writes in her letter to Khamenei that her son was also threatened with rape “in the house of God." She says Ali Karrubi was later taken away by a special guard unit, which videotaped his further torture. When his release was ordered, she says, the commander became upset and told Ali, “If you'd been here for 24 more hours, I would have delivered your dead body."

Fatemeh Karrubi
Fatemeh Karrubi says the point of her letter is not to highlight the treatment of her son. She said he’s being taken care of and is with his family. She says she wrote the letter in an effort to convince the supreme leader to issue a call for justice for detainees -- especially for the young ones and those less prominent -- before it's too late. She is calling on Khamenei to find a solution before other detainees die at the hands of "these irresponsible people."

At least three postelection detainees are known to have died under torture. Others have said they were physically and psychologically tortured. A number of detainees have said they were raped while in custody.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi is calling for urgent international help to counter a growing list of rights abuses in the Islamic republic.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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