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Iran Declines Comment On Baku's Islamic Activist Accusations

BAKU -- The Iranian Embassy in Baku has declined to comment on Azerbaijani allegations that Islamic activists arrested last week had set up a radical religious group with financial support from Baku's Cultural Center of Iran, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

A court in Baku on August 13 remanded the three members of the banned Islamic Party of Azerbaijan in pretrial detention for two months on weapons- and drug-possession charges.

The three men -- party Deputy Chairman Arif Qaniyev, party member Abgul Suleymanov, and Ramin Bayramov, editor of the news website -- were arrested on August 11.

They have been charged with illegal possession of weapons and drugs, crimes that are punishable by up to three years in prison.

But according to a joint statement on August 12 by the National Security Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office, they are also suspected of unspecified "hostile activity against Azerbaijan."

According to the National Security Ministry, Suleymanov created a radical Islamic group called Jafari with financial help from the Baku-based Cultural Center of Iran. The ministry alleged that "members of this unregistered group promoted religious radicalism and distributed leaflets among believers. Those leaflets encouraged hostility towards adherents of other faiths."

A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy told RFE/RL on August 15 that the ambassador has "no comment on the issue."

The men's lawyer, Anar Qasimov, told RFE/RL that the three are currently being held illegally at a National Security Ministry detention facility. Qasimov said that detention there is against the law because investigating drugs and weapons charges is the prerogative of the police, not of that ministry.

Qasimov also noted that the joint statement refers to charges other than those formally brought against the three men. He said separate investigators have been assigned to each case.

Qasimov linked the arrests to statements made in court by Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Movsum Samadov. Samadov and six other party members went on trial on August 4 on charges of calling for the overthrow of Azerbaijan's secular government.

Natiq Karimov, chairman of the Committee to Defend Believers' Rights, told RFE/RL on August 12 that "detaining believers on such fabricated charges does not befit a state."

The arrests and accusations of Iranian involvement came the same week that Baku summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest "irresponsible" comments attributed to Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, the chairman of Iran's joint chiefs of staff.

Firouzabadi was quoted as saying on August 6 that Baku's government had taken measures "that go against Islamic principles."

Read more in Azeri here