Azerbaijan: a hot summer in summary

August 18, 2014

An array of international human rights organisations have over the last weeks focused on Azerbaijan. These four reports together give a shocking picture of the kind of repression that awaits human rights defenders:

On 13 August Index on Censorship, Human Rights House Foundation and People in Need sent a joint letter on to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, following his statement on Azerbaijan.

(Secretary General Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland)

The 3 organisations express their concern and disappointment with his 11 August 2014 public statement, which hailed the reconvening of a committee as a “a good opportunity to go through the charges brought against the human rights defenders and to re-launch dialogue between the authorities and civil society” without any public comment on these charges [against Rasul Jafarov and against Emin Huseynov] which the Council of Europe’s own Commissioner for Human Rights considers as “another disturbing illustration of how human rights defenders in Azerbaijan are systematically threatened with an instrumental use of criminal suits.” In her statement issued on 3 August 2014, the rapporteur on human rights defenders of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Mailis Reps denounced Leyla Yunus arrest calling it “another example of the unrelenting suppression of independent voices and crackdown on civil society in the country. This is an unacceptable violation of Azerbaijan’s duties as a member of the Council of Europe.

To launch a dialogue platform in these conditions and without first the unconditional and immediate release of human rights defenders, means little say the NGOs. “How will this group operate without the key professionals and defenders who are now jailed or detained? ……..We believe that your role is to protect and defend Council of Europe institutions, including those cooperating with them. We therefore regret that you have not chosen to use your influence and the power of your office to call for immediate and unconditional release of those human rights defenders and have not condemned their arrest.”

The next day, 14 August, Human Rights Watch published a detailed report on the Azerbaijan government’s offensive against human rights defenders and nongovernmental organizations.

It concludes that it should lead to Azerbaijan’s suspension from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a prominent international coalition that promotes government openness in natural resource management. The Azerbaijani government’s escalating enforcement of restrictive new laws regulating nongovernmental organizations and other tactics threatens the survival of independent groups, Human Rights Watch said. That includes groups that focus on issues of direct concern to EITI. “Azerbaijan’s government is squeezing activist groups to the breaking point while claiming to international audiences that it’s a leader on open civic participation and good governance,” said Lisa Misol, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Azerbaijan is blatantly violating EITI rules, and EITI cannot afford to be complicit in this hypocrisy.”

Azerbaijan’s government began a relentless crackdown on government critics and independent groups in the months before presidential elections in 2013 and since then has escalated the pressure. Authorities have arrested and imprisoned at least 40 journalists, civil and political activists, and human rights defenders in the last two years on various trumped-up charges, including hooliganism, tax evasion, drug possession, and even treason. Among the government’s targets have been some of its most vocal critics.For some time independent groups working on revenue transparency issues in Azerbaijan have faced restrictions that impede their work. However, in recent months their situation has worsened dramatically, as the government has frozen their bank accounts or refused to register their grants, leaving the groups unable to draw on funds. Among the EITI activists the government targeted through financial sanctions is Gubad Ibadoglu, who was elected to the international governing board of EITI and serves as coordinator of the civil society EITI coalition. On June 30, 2014, the government ordered a freeze on the bank accounts for his organization, the Economic Research Center.

The HRW report describes in detail how Azerbaijan represents itself as a model participant in EITI.but recent years have been marked by a precipitous decline in Azerbaijan’s respect for a core tenet of EITI: the unfettered participation of civil society groups in the functioning of the initiative and in public debate on natural resource management issues. As described in a September 2013 Human Rights Watch report, the government began a concerted effort to silence its critics. Restrictive laws approved in 2012 and 2013 gave the government new tools to rein in independent voices. The government also relied heavily on politically motivated arrests to punish its critics. In a June 2014 update, Human Rights Watch reported that 16 of the people it had earlier profiled had subsequently been convicted and sentenced to prison; four had been released; and 13 more had been arrested and remained behind bars.

The government’s broader assault on independent groups has taken a particular toll on human rights activists. In mid-2014 there has been a dramatic escalation of politically motivated arrests, targeting several of the country’s leading human rights defenders. On July 30, the authorities arrested the activist Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus, a historian, on multiple charges, including treason. On August 2, Rasul Jafarov, another prominent human rights defender and government critic, was arrested on bogus charges of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of authority. Azerbaijani authorities arrested a human rights lawyer, Intigam Aliyev, on August 8 on charges identical to those brought against Jafarov.

Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders issued an appeal on 28 May 2014 for an Azeri journalist sentenced to prison for criticising the government

Azerbaijan Abdul Abilov

On 27 May 27 Azerbaijani journalist and blogger Abdul Abilov was sentenced to five and a half years on trumped-up drug charges. Abilov was charged after vehemently criticising the government on Facebook. Abilov’s sentencing comes amid an escalating crackdown targeting Azerbaijan’s journalists and bloggers. Currently there are eight journalists and seven bloggers in prison making Azerbaijan one the worst offenders for jailing journalists who criticise the authorities. “Yesterday’s conviction once again demonstrates the extraordinary measures taken by the Azeri authorities to crush any criticism against the regime. It clearly shows the dangers human rights defenders face in the country” says Marie Månson Programme Director for Support to Human Rights Defenders at Risk….Abilov is one of a number of recent high profiled cases that have seen numerous human rights defenders in Azerbaijan placed behind bars. Journalist Parviz Hashimli and human rights defenders Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli have all been convicted by the Courts on politically motivated charges.

Civil Rights Defenders – Azeri journalist sentenced to prison for criticising the government.

On 12 August Front Line Defenders issued a report on the case of  Human rights defender Intigam Aliyev, Head of the Legal Education Society, whose is in pre-trial detention

Intigam Aliyev, head of the Legal Education SocietyOn the morning of 8 August 2014, human rights defender Intigam Aliyev was summoned for interrogation in the Serious Crimes Investigation Department of the General Prosecutor’s Office in Baku, where he was charged with tax evasion (under article 213.1 of the Criminal Code), illegal enterprise  and abuse of official power , and was then sent to pre-trial detention. Later on 8 August 2014, Nasimi District Court in Baku ruled to detain the human rights defender for three months, and authorities transferred him to Baku Pre-Trial Detention Facility. If the court finds Intigam Aliev guilty of the charges, he may face up to seven years’ imprisonment! Aliyev is the head of the Legal Education Society, a human rights organisation that provides legal support to mass and non-governmental organisations and low-income groups of the population. As a human rights lawyer, Intigam Aliyev has submitted more than 200 applications to the European Court of Human Rights [in 2012, Mr. Aliyev was awarded the People in Need’s HomoHomini Award ].[On 5 August 2014, the court in Baku upheld the petition of the General Prosecutor’s office and ruled to freeze the bank accounts of nine national NGOs and one international NGO, including bank accounts of the Legal Education Society, the Media Rights Institute, the Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Public Union, the Public Association for Assistance to Free EconomyDemocracy and Human Rights Resource Centre, the Association of Lawyers in Azerbaijan, the Centre for National and International Studies, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, and the office of International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) in Azerbaijan. Reportedly, the personal bank accounts of at least three directors of NGOs were also frozen.]

for my earlier posts on Azerbaijan:

4 Responses to “Azerbaijan: a hot summer in summary”

  1. […] Several other human rights defenders were sentenced to varying prison terms earlier this year on charges included tax evasion, illegal business activity and hooliganism. Defense lawyers called the charges unfounded and politically motivated. […]

  2. […] Several other human rights defenders were sentenced to varying prison terms earlier this year on cha… […]

  3. […] [Huseynov is facing various criminal charges, similar to the ones held against human rights defender Rasul Jafarov and human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, accused of tax evasion, illegal business and abuse of authority. Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus were charged on similar charges. On 26 May 2014, Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre were sentenced to respectively 5 years and 6 months imprisonment and 3 years and 6 months on same charges. see: […]

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