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).