Venice Commission issues opinion on Azerbaijan’s Law on Freedom of Religious Belief

Venice Commission issues opinion on Azerbaijan’s Law on Freedom of Religious Belief
# 15 October 2012 10:00 (UTC +04:00)
According to the opinion, the Law on Freedom of religious belief as amended in 2011 sets a legal framework which would benefit from additional revisions in order to meet international standards under several aspects, the Law appears to contain several quite restrictive provisions.
“In addition, central issues such as the scope of the law and of the beneficiaries of the right to freedom of religion and conscience, the registration, the autonomy and liquidation of religious communities; the conscientious objection, the issue of proselytism, the publication and circulation of religious materials could be specified in greater detail. The Law is moreover characterised by a vague terminology which may lead to arbitrary interpretation and implementation.”
The Key Recommendations of the Venice Commission are as follows: to expand the scope of the Law on Freedom of Religion to cover freedom of religion or belief, to expand the definition of “freedom of religion” by prescribing also the right to adopt, or to change, a religion or belief and to manifest a religion or belief in private or public and in worship, teaching, practice and observance, to remove the prohibition on religious propagation by foreigners and persons without citizenship, to expressly allow in Article 4 for alternative civilian service for persons who refuse to perform military service owing to their religious or nonreligious conscientious beliefs, to provide religious communities with greater autonomy and self-determination on matters regarding issues of faith, belief or their internal organization as a group, as well as the choice of place of worship, to reform the system of state registration of religious communities, to clarify which information and documents require state registration, to amend the rules governing the liquidation of religious organizations, providing for an appeals procedure for religious organizations facing liquidation or other sanctions, to remove from Article 21 the provision stating that “Islamic religious rites and rituals may be carried out only by citizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan [who] studied in the Republic of Azerbaijan”, to cancel the requirement of the consent of a “relevant executive authority” for sending citizens abroad for religious education and for the foreign exchange of clergymen.

The opinion was issued at the meeting of the Venice Commission on October 12-13.
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