The Republic of Azerbaijan is a contiguous transcontinental presidential republic in the Caucasus region, situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Azerbaijan is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

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Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies provide for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. Azerbaijan is constitutionally secular and in fact calls itself a “humanist” state, but this is a self-assigned and misleading label. Azerbaijan in fact contravenes core humanist values; it restricts democracy, infringes on freedoms and violates human rights. In practice the authoritarian regime of Heydar Aliyev restricts freedom of religion or belief, and severely violates freedom of expression, and restricts the advocacy and promotion of any conception of humanist values, however broadly construed.

Under the constitution, persons do have the right to choose and change religious affiliation and beliefs, including atheism, to join or establish the religious group of their choice, and to engage in religious practice. The law on religious freedom expressly prohibits the government from interfering in the religious activities of any individual or group; however, there are significant exceptions. In practice, only a few religions are allowed to operate, and they are subject to significant government oversight and control.

Secularist critics of the government not only face the threat of government repression, but also the threat of Islamist violence. (See “Highlighted cases” below.)

Education and children’s rights

There is no religious curriculum at elementary and high schools.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

While the constitution guarantees freedom of the press, the authorities severely restrict the media in practice. There are few media outlets not controlled by the government. The few independent media outlets are subject to government harassment. In 2009, broadcasts of the major international news services—including the BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Voice of America—were banned in Azerbaijan.

The government has repeatedly blocked some websites that feature opposition views. Authorities monitor internet use and punish critical bloggers.

Freedom of Assembly

The government restricts freedom of assembly, especially for opposition parties. The authorities routinely deny permission for public protests, and violently disperse protests that do take place.

2013 saw further repression in the run-up and aftermath of the re-election of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for a third consecutive term. Amnesty International branded the attacks a “ruthless and relentless attack on any dissenting voices in the media.”

Highlighted cases

In late 2011, the secularist writer Rafiq Tagi was stabbed six times in downtown Baku by an unknown assailant, and died four days later in a Baku hospital. In a hospital interview shortly before his death, Tagi, claimed that the attack was revenge by unidentified Iranian agents and Muslim fundamentalists for his secularist writing.

Another secularist, Khazar University professor Agalar Mammadov, responded to Tagi’s murder by initiating a letter attacking extremism in Islam. As a result, Mammadov received death threats from extremist Muslims, and fled Azerbaijan for asylum in Sweden in April 2012.

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