Religious literature to face more control in Azerbaijan comment (0)
August 9, 2012
AZERBAIJAN — Religious literature — already subject to compulsory prior censorship from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations — is set to face further, parallel control by Azerbaijan’s Tax Ministry. Printed and electronic religious literature and recordings are specifically identified in new legal amendments, alongside literature in general and medicine, as requiring “verification marks” before they can be sold.
Although billed as consumer protection and tax measures, legal specialists and human rights defenders have expressed concern that the real aim of the measures — at least those related to religious literature — is to make it easier to confiscate unapproved religious literature and make publication of religious literature more difficult. The legal amendments are awaiting approval from President Ilham Aliev.
“This is just the latest measure to restrict religious activity,” said a member of a Baku-based religious community who asked not to be identified. Under the amendments to the Consumer Protection Law, certain products cannot be sold unless they have a verification mark. Under the amendments to the Tax Code, the tax authorities will have the right to halt the sale of products being sold without the appropriate marking. Moreover, other existing provisions of the Criminal Code would allow for the prosecution of any company violating the new rules.
However others are suspicious about the intentions of the legal changes. “Formally they speak not about censorship or prohibition of distribution of religious books, but about protection of the rights of consumers,” said Eldar Zeynalov, head of the Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan. He believes that the practical impact of the amendments is likely to be “stronger control over distribution of such materials.”
“If previously for confiscation of books, the police needed some preliminary expertise of their content, now the absence of a verification mark would be enough.”