WASHINGTON—In response to the recent escalation of pressure on religious minorities—particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses—in Azerbaijan, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement:
“I am deeply concerned for Irina Zacharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova, currently held in pre-trial detention. They are two members of the Jehovah’s Witness religious community, and were arrested almost four months ago—the government has charged them with publicly sharing their faith. For four months they have been imprisoned with no access to family, or even a Bible, and in appalling conditions. Reportedly their health is failing.
“The Government often touts its record of protecting religious freedom yet the truth is that it has imprisoned many people for practicing their faith. I call on the Government of Azerbaijan to release Ms. Zacharchenko and Ms. Jabrayilova immediately.”
Ms. Zacharchenko is a 55-year-old disabled widow, and Ms. Jabrayilova is 38 and the main caretaker for her aging mother. Their pre-trial detention has been extended through at least July 15, 2015. As a participating State of the OSCE, Azerbaijan has committed to respecting religious freedom.