Social Action

Human rights, community development and the like

AZERBAIJAN: Raid and beatings for "illegal" religious meeting - but police deny it

The police raid on a Jehovah's Witness meeting in a private home in Barda on 30 January is the latest attempt to suppress religious meetings in private homes, Forum 18 News Service has found. "If this was a religious group, why were they meeting in a private house?" Orhan Mansuzade of the Interior Ministry in Baku told Forum 18. "The Jehovah's Witnesses don't have registration with the Justice Ministry, so their activity is illegal." No law bans unregistered religious activity or religious meetings in private homes. Local police denied conducting the raid or beating six of those attending. Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists are among others who have faced recent raids. In the exclave of Nakhichevan, no religious minorities - whether Baha'i, Hare Krishna or Adventist communities - are allowed to function. "There is no possibility for us to do anything in Nakhichevan," a Baha'i told Forum 18. "Of course our people would like to be able to meet."

{josquote}Nothing happened. We checked.{/josquote}

Despite a massive raid on a Jehovah's Witness meeting in a private house in the central town of Barda on 30 January involving some 30 police officers, two local police officers have independently denied to Forum 18 News Service that any raid took place. "There wasn't a raid," Magerram Ahmedov told Forum 18 from Barda on 6 February. "You have incorrect information." His colleague, Major Farid Kuliev, separately denied that any religious meeting had been raided or that any religious believers had been beaten. "Nothing happened," he told Forum 18 later the same day. "We checked."

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Serving God and Music?

A significant part of the problem with the use of diplomatic language in news reports is that it tends to obscure facts in an impenetrable linguistic fog. Alan Greenspan, a recent master of this form of non-communication, spoke in riddles in order to "prepare the markets" -- which was itself a euphemism for the concept that those who knew the code could divine its meaning, act accordingly, and thus enrich themselves at the expense of those of us stupid enough to believe that words mean what they say.

Although I doubt that the intention was to obscure, a recent report from the "Art Desk" of The Tehran Times could not have been more clouded in its meaning- - or more ghastly. The report advised that Manuchehr Sahbaii has been appointed permanent conductor of Tehran's Symphony Orchestra. So far so good. It then goes on to state that Sahbaii said that the orchestra "...needs to be reorganized along proper lines and that this requires the cooperation of officials from the Music Office and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance."

{josquote}And musicians who adhere to the Baha'i or Jewish faiths are unlikely to be invited to stop by as a guest soloist.{/josquote}

The suggestion of the need for reorganization "along proper lines" is difficult to decipher in and of itself. Is the orchestra presently organized along improper lines? Has anyone advocated for organizing an orchestra along improper lines? And is this a matter in which the distinction between an improper organization and a proper one is to be determined by reference to a sacred text or the personal tastes of some imam with budgetary authority?

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Senate post for radio announcer in new Cabinet

RADIO presenter Thaao Dill has been made a Senator and Junior Minister in Premier Ewart Brown's new Cabinet.

Mr. Dill's appointment was the one major surprise in the reshuffle, which was announced yesterday afternoon.

The controversial broadcaster worked for the Progressive Labour Party during its successful election campaign, featuring in political adverts for the ruling party. He later admitted that his employer - radio station Hott 107.5, which is owned by Government MP Glenn Blakeney - was probably in breach of broadcasting regulations.

But following the PLP's success at the polls on Tuesday, Dr. Brown thanked the station, and singled out Mr. Dill for praise.

"The PLP does not own a newspaper, we don't own a TV station, we don't own the other radio stations, except we have a friend at Hott," Dr. Brown told an enthusiastic crowd.

"And I want you to give it up for Thaao for what he has done for us."

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It's all a bit surreal, says new Senator

Thaao Dill

Hott 1075's Thaao Dill arrived at Government House yesterday a regular Joe - but he left as a Senator, a slightly surreal experience for the popular radio host.

Mr. Dill, 25, says he got the call Wednesday night and after making a few calls himself, decided to accept the post of Junior Minister of Culture and Social Rehabilitation.

It was his first visit to Government House and when we took him outside for a photo shoot he said, laughing: "This is surreal, man. Sitting on the diving board by the pool at Government House."

But he says he is ready to get serious with the issues telling us: "I truly want to try and improve my country." He said he was picked simply for being himself: He became a powerful force during the election campaign. As a strong proponent of the Progressive Labour Party, and the most listened to voice in the morning, he had the ear of thousands of listeners.

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'I was weird and tiny at school, a real nerd and people treated me like a novelty'

Family first: Thaao with his mom Joann and younger sister Courtney pictured at a family wedding in 2006

Thaao Dill is two weeks away from starting work as a Senator. It's a high-profile public position, but how much do we really know about him other than he has a successful morning radio show and wears glasses?

If you are one of his 600+ friends on the social networking site Facebook, you probably think you know enough already - but there's plenty more to this 25 year-old than meets the eye.

For a start, he's a self-confessed neurotic - he'd rather starve than use plastic cutlery - and thinks he's too fat. He was raised under an incredibly strict religious regime - no birthday or Christmas celebrations, and certainly no Hallowe'en.

{josquote}The [Baha'i] faith speaks to me logically and emotionally but I'm unwilling to take the leap and join just yet, even though it moves me in a way that I never have been spiritually, because I don't want to make it look bad by association.{/josquote}

Perhaps one of his most remarkable achievements is that he started high school when he was 10 - a development that had a profound impact on how he was perceived as well as how he perceived himself.

Here, in his most candid interview to date, Mr. Dill opens up to Nigel Regan about his childhood, his goals, his move into politics and the unapologetic flouting of broadcasting laws before last month's election, and his ultimate passion and reason for being - the quest for social justice.

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