Azerbaijan: conscientious objector sentenced to six month suspended sentence

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Despite its commitment to recognise the right to conscientious objection, Azerbaijan has still not passed a law on conscientious objection. As a result, conscientious objectors face trials and sentencing for "refusing to perform military service". Forum 18 reported on 26 July on the six months suspended sentence for Jehovah's Witness CO Mushfiq Mammedov. "My son has done nothing wrong – he's not guilty," Sevil Najafova told Forum 18 from the Azerbaijani capital on 26 July. "He told the Military Commissariat he's prepared to do alternative unarmed service in line with his religious beliefs."

Najafova said her son can work, live at home and also attend religious meetings during his sentence. "No-one has said what he can and can't do." However, she said she fears that if he fails in his appeal, officials could find a reason to accuse him of violating the terms of his suspended sentence and send him to prison. "We're very afraid they could do this at any moment." She said her son's mood was "not good" in the wake of the sentence. "He hoped for a more just verdict."

Mammedov's prosecution and the failure to introduce alternative non-military service violate Azerbaijan's specific commitment to the Council of Europe. When Azerbaijan joined in 2001, it pledged to introduce alternative service by January 2003, but did not do so. Hajiev of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations insisted to Forum 18 that the long-promised alternative service law will be adopted "in the next year" It will then, he claimed, be possible for young men to opt for alternative service. "But this law does not yet exist."

Mammedov, who is 23, was arrested on 28 April, nine months after telling Sabail District Military Commissariat in Baku that he was unable to perform compulsory military service on grounds of his religious conviction. He demanded instead to be allowed to perform alternative service guaranteed by the Constitution. He was held for nearly a month in Baku's Bayil investigative prison.

Mammedov's trial began at Baku's Sabail District Court on 30 June under Article 321.1 of the Criminal Code, which punishes evasion of military service with a sentence of up to two years' imprisonment.
The last hearing in the case took place on 20 July. Jehovah's Witness sources say the judge behaved correctly and praised Mammedov in court for being "very educated and cultivated". Although the prosecutor was demanding a suspended sentence of one year, on 21 July the judge handed down the suspended six-month sentence.

Source: Forum 18 News Service, 26 July 2006