Azerbaijan continues to ‘play the game’

April 28, 2015

Azerbaijan plays the game: Under pressure from a variety of sources to reduce its widespread repression of human rights defenders in the run up to the European Games [see my latest post: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/azerbaijan-a-formula-for-combining-sports-and-repression/], the authorities seems to have decided to give in a tiny bit (see two examples below) and continue for the rest with heavy-handed sentencing of human rights defenders:

– On 18 March 2015, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev pardoned 101 prisoners, including Bashir Suleymanli, co-founder of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDSC). Whilst welcoming Suleymanli’s release, on 19 March, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) remains deeply concerned by the ongoing arbitrary detention of other prominent human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, including Anar Mammadli, chairman of the EMDSC, arrested on the same day, who remains currently detained. The EMDSC – which Azeri authorities have always refused to register – has been leading electoral monitoring activities in Azerbaijan since 2008.

–  On 24 April 2015, the head of the United Nation’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), Aisha Shujune Muhammad, announced that her four-member delegation had successfully conducted investigations of Azerbaijani prisons, police stations and investigative isolation units. “The Azerbaijani Government this time enabled unhindered access to places of deprivation of liberty,” said a statement published by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. While welcoming the government’s cooperation, Muhammad added, “[The] State party has yet to guarantee all fundamental legal and procedural safeguards to persons deprived of their liberty, including access to a lawyer, a medical doctor, and to contact his or her family.” [As a state party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, Azerbaijan is obliged to allow independent experts full access to sites of detention, but last September the SPT was forced to suspend its visit after being prevented from inspecting some sites and barred from completing its work at others, “in violation of Azerbaijan’s treaty obligations”]

But then – if you think it finally goes in the right direction – on the 22 April a Court in Baku sentenced human rights defender Mr Intigam Aliyev to seven and a half years imprisonment on trumped-up charges. For more on Intigam Aliyev see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/intigam-aliyev/]. Many NGOs and governments condemned the sentencing including the EU (“The sentence of seven and a half years imprisonment and a further three-year ban on holding public office handed down to prominent human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev by an Azerbaijani Court is a further demonstration of the increasingly difficult  situation faced by human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. This harsh sentence is disproportionate to the alleged offences, while serious shortcomings witnessed by international monitors during the trial raise fundamental questions as to the legality of these procedures.“)

Several important NGOs, including Amnesty International,Human Rights Watch, the Observatory on Human Rights Defenders (FIDH/OMCT) and Front Line Defenders, have pointed out that serious rights allegations have been escalating since 2012 as Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games under the auspices of the Olympic Movement. [Over 6,000 athletes representing 50 countries from 12-28 June 2015; according to the London-based Business News Europe, the games are budgeted at an estimated eight billion dollars, and billed as the “most spectacular show in Azerbaijan’s history.”]

While the government of President Ilham Aliyev hopes to use the games to spotlight his country’s economic development, rights groups are pushing the European Olympic Committees and key National Olympic Committees to instead shift the focus onto human rights abuses and political prisoners. The Sports and Rights Alliance, urged the IOC to use its leverage with Azerbaijan to, among other things, demand the immediate and unconditional release of rights activists like Khajida Ismayilova, Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Rauf Mirgadirov, Anar Mammadli, Ilgar Mammadov, and Tofig Yagulblu.

Those participating in the European games being funded by the Azerbaijani government have a real obligation to speak out,” Buchanan of Human Rights Watch stressed.

Azerbaijan activist released after almost 10 months’ arbitrary detention – ALIRAN.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/

https://iwpr.net/global-voices/azerbaijan-convictions-dont-convince

http://www.channel4.com/news/baku-european-games-azerbaijan-aliyev-human-rights-team-gb

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