BAKU, Azerbaijan Hundreds of Muslim activists were attacked by baton-wielding police forces on Friday, October 5, as they led major protests rejecting a government ban on hijab (Islamic veil) in secondary schools.
Stop Islamophobia and Freedom for the hijab, read placards carried by some of the protesters, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
Gathering outside the Ministry of Education on Friday in the capital, Baku, pro-hijab activists and protesters were attacked by baton-wielding police forces.
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The demonstrators were calling for the removal of the government's 2010 ban on Islamic hijab in schools.
In 2010, the secular government introduced a standard school uniform which precludes the wearing of hijab, an obligatory Muslim code of dress.
The move has triggered uproar in the country, with many Muslims taking to the streets to protest against the restriction.
Video of the clashes posted on the Web site of Radio Azadliq showed officers beating some of the protesters with their batons and some activists fighting back with sticks.
About 70 people were arrested, and many more wounded in the clashes between the security forces and protesters.
Like much of the ex-Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has witnessed a limited religious revival since independence in 1991.
The government of President Ilham Aliyev has been facing accusations of tightening controls on the Muslim religion in the country.
In mid-February 2010, the government has ordered all state employees to remove Islam-related symbols -- like Qur'anic verses -- from their offices.
The state also requires all religious communities to register with the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations.
The government also mandates that all religious groups align their teachings with the spiritual authority of the Caucasus Board of Muslims (CBM), a state-backed board of scholars which controls mosques in the country.
But the most significant evidence Azeri Muslims see as the government's campaign against their faith is the closure and demolition of mosques.
Two mosques that authorities said were built illegally were demolished last year and at least two others in Baku have been closed.
In 2008, another mosque was even bombed, and two worshippers were killed.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net