Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 13:11 GMT

Azerbaijan: Whether individuals seeking a passport encounter obstacles due to ethnicity, religion or political beliefs; whether obstacles may be overcome through bribery of officials (2004 - March 2007)

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 2 April 2007
Citation / Document Symbol AZE101981.E
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Azerbaijan: Whether individuals seeking a passport encounter obstacles due to ethnicity, religion or political beliefs; whether obstacles may be overcome through bribery of officials (2004 - March 2007), 2 April 2007, AZE101981.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469cd69bc.html [accessed 19 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Members of ethnic groups

The United States (US) Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005 reports that, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), ethnic Armenian travel passport applicants may be targeted for bribes and subject to harassment by low-level officials (US 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 2.d). The report also notes that although applicants with Azerbaijani surnames may also have to pay bribes, they did not confront any additional problems (ibid.).

More generally, a 2005 report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) quotes an Armenian resident of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, as saying that she found it difficult to get official documents (IWPR 25 Nov. 2005). She explained that officials in a number of institutions would either refuse to issue Armenians with papers or issue them for a bigger bribe than usual" (ibid.). In fact, a 2006 report released by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) maintains, as did the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2003 when it reported that authorities in Azerbaijan "tolerated" discrimination against ethnic Armenians (UN Sept. 2003, para. 124), that "hostile attitudes toward Armenians remained widespread" (IHF 8 June 2006, 57). The UNHCR also reported that bribery was a commonplace practice for overcoming such "bureaucratic obstacles" (UN Sept. 2003, para. 119).

New Azerbaijani passports issued in 1999 do not indicate ethnicity (Denmark 2000, 18). Similarly, the Soviet-era internal passport, which became invalid in July 2005, has been replaced by new identity cards that no longer indicate ethnicity (IHF 8 June 2006, 57). However, the UNHCR contends that Armenians are "easily recognisable" by their surname on identity documents (UN Sept. 2003, para. 126). The Director of the Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan told the IWPR that ethnic Armenians are most likely to encounter problems whenever they have to reveal their identity to the bureaucracy, which includes applying for an identity card or a passport (IWPR 25 Nov. 2005). Several sources indicate that, as a result, many Armenians are opting to use Azerbaijani surnames in official documents in order to avoid detection (IHF 8 June 2006, 57; IWPR 25 Nov. 2005; Denmark 2000, 11), and that children from mixed marriages, given the choice to indicate their ethnic identity on official documents, are choosing the Azerbaijani parent's identity (ibid., 11-12).

Members of religious groups

According to a 2005 Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF Int.) document, Muslim women in Azerbaijan are not permitted to wear headscarves in passport photographs (Oct. 2005; see also Eurasianet 6 Nov. 2005). The IWPR explains that although a decree banning the hijab in identification document photographs was issued in the 1990s, it did not become an issue for Muslim women seeking a passport until July 2005 when the Soviet-era internal passport became invalid (IWPR 17 Nov. 2005). Any women unwilling to remove their hijab for passport photos cannot be issued a new passport (ibid; see also HRW 2003). A September 2006 Agence France-Presse (AFP) article indicates that the headscarf ban is still in effect (4 Sept. 2006).

Political opponents

According to an official at the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Ottawa, police in Azerbaijan conduct a background check before issuing a passport (Azerbaijan 30 Oct. 2006). However, in August 2006, Radio Free Europe reported that Ali Kerimli, chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, was refused a travel passport because of criminal charges dating back to 1994, although he had been issued a passport twice in the interim period (1 Aug. 2006).

Several sources report that on 28 December 2004, Alim Kazimli, a press photographer for the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat, was severely beaten when visiting Narimov police station in Baku to obtain passport documents (IFJ 2005, 27; CJES 30 Dec. 2004; CPJ 22 June 2005; see also US 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 2.a). Kazimli reportedly complained that the application process was inefficient (ibid.) and protested against police attempts to solicit bribes (IFJ 2005, 27; CPJ 22 June 2005). An official of the police station's passport service denied responsibility for the incident, saying that Kazimli had "created a disturbance ... saying he was going to write an article about illegal police practices" (IFEX 30 Dec. 2004; CJES 30 Dec. 2004). The police allege that they asked Kazimli to discuss the matter further but that he then "began to feel ill and lost consciousness" (ibid.). The US Department of State reports that

Kazimli recovered from his injuries but died six months later, reportedly from a heart condition. However, opposition newspapers attributed his death to conditions arising from the police beating. (US 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 2.a; IFJ 2005, 27-28; RSF 19 June 2005)

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also alleges that, according to his family and colleagues, Kazimili's death was directly related to the beating suffered at the police station (CPJ 22 June 2005).

In June 2004, the CPJ expressed concern when the Moscow-based journalist Irada Huseynova was unable to travel to Azerbaijan to renew her Soviet-era passport due to criminal defamation charges she faced for an article she had written criticizing the mayor of Baku (CPJ 2 June 2004). Without the Soviet passport, she would have been "stranded" in Russia (ibid.); however, charges were later dropped as a result of international pressure (IFJ n.d.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 4 September 2006. "Muslims Call for End to Azerbaijan Headscarf Ban." (Dialog)

Azerbaijan. 30 October 2006. Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ottawa. Telephone interview with the Consul.

Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES). 30 December 2004. "Press Photographer Apparently Beaten at Police Station." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2006]

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 22 June 2005. "Azerbaijan: Opposition Photojournalist Dies Six Months after Dispute." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2006]
_____ . 2 June 2004. "CPJ Calls on Azerbaijan to Allow Journalist to Return to Country." [Accessed 7 Dec. 2006]

Denmark. 1 September 2000. Danish Immigration Service. Report on Roving Attaché Mission to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia. [Accessed 27 Sept. 2006]

Eurasianet. 6 November 2005. Azerbaijan Elections 2005. "Policy Guide: Role of Islam." [Accessed 1 Nov. 2006]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2003. "Azerbaijan." World Report 2003. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2006]

Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF Int.). October 2005. Michael Wiener. "Chart of the Prohibition of Wearing Religious Symbols in 28 Countries." (Dialog)

Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). 25 November 2005. Marianna Grigorian and Zarema Velikhanova. "Armenia- Azerbaijan: Those Who Remained." (Caucasus Reporting Service No. 316) [Accessed 31 Oct. 2006]
_____ . 17 November 2005. Shirin Azizmamadova and Zarema Velikhanova. "Hijab Ban Sparks Protests." (Women's Perspectives. No. 14) [Accessed 10 Mar. 2007]

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). N.d. "A Global Snapshot; Recent Defamation Cases Around the World." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2006]
_____ . 2005. The Year in Focus: IFJ Asia-Pacific Regional Office. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2006]

International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). 30 December 2004. "Press Photographer Apparently Beaten at Police Station." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2006]

International Helisinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). 8 June 2006. "Azerbaijan." Human Rights in the OSCE Region: Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2006 (Events of 2005). < [Accessed 31 Oct. 2006]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 1 August 2006. "Azerbaijani Oppositionist Denied Passport for Foreign Travel." [Accessed 27 Sept. 2006]

Reporters Without Borders (RSF). 19 June 2005. Press Freedom Barometer. "Azerbaijan 2 Journalists Killed in 2005." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2006]

United Nations (UN). September 2003. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). International Protection Considerations Regarding Azerbaijani Asylum-Seekers and Refugees. [Accessed 27 Sept. 2006]

United States (US). 8 March 2006. Department of State. "Azerbaijan." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005. [Accessed 28 Sept. 2006]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Austrian Centre for Country of Origin and Asylum Research and Documentation (ACCORD), Azerbaijan Ministry of Internal Affairs, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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