Shia cleric Tale’ Baqirzadeh, the leader of the Movement for
Muslim Unity (MMU), and 17 other defendants are accused of plotting to
overthrow the Azerbaijani government, but human rights activists say they are
prisoners of conscience.
They have been on trial at Baku’s Court for Serious Crimes on
baseless charges of premeditated murder, terrorism, organizing mass unrest,
illegal possession of weapons, creating armed formations, inciting religious
hatred, using force against officials with the aim of overthrowing the
government and seizing power.
They were arrested last year after Azerbaijani forces
carried out a raid on a gathering of Shia Muslims in the eastern town of Nardaran.
The attack took place in late 2015 as Shias had gathered
for a religious ceremony to mark Arbaeen, the 40th day since the martyrdom
anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shia Imam, and his followers in the
Battle of Karbala.
Following the raid, in which four people were killed by
security forces, the town’s Shia residents staged a number of demonstrations.
The government of Azerbaijan has been carrying out a crackdown
on Shia Muslims in the country for a long time.