UN, Council of Europe and OSCE ask Azerbaijan to free human rights defenders ahead of 2015 Baku Games

June 4, 2015

Every time I now see one of the many flashy television announcements for the Baku Games starting next week, I have to think of the human rights defenders in detention there. So the effortd by many NGOs and experts to link the holding of these Games to Azerbaijan’s terrible human rights record seem to bear fruit. I have written myself several times along these lines [recently: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/azerbaijan-a-formula-for-combining-sports-and-repression/], so I will not repeat all the arguments. Just to note that several heavyweights have added their voices:

Independent Expert on Human Rights Michel Forst. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré

On 2 June 2015 United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, criticized the “relentless prosecution and repression of prominent rights activists in Azerbaijan” and called for their immediate release – before the inaugural European Games begin in Baku on 12 June: “As preparations are in full swing for the Baku Games, the Azerbaijani authorities stepped up their efforts to harass, jail, and surveil human rights defenders, as well as ban them from travel and freeze their assets.” He stressed that as host country, Azerbaijan should embody those ideals and release the imprisoned human rights supporters. “Azerbaijani activists must be free and they deserve to be part of the European celebrations in Baku.”  Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and David Kaye, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression also endorsed Mr. Forst’s appeal to the Azerbaijani Government.

The same Michel Forst wrote a convincing piece “Sport cannot ignore human rights ” in Open Democracy of 3 June 2015, together with Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and Dunja Mijatović, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media.

They mention 3 cases to help understand the magnitude of the repression

Rasul Jafarov, who made a name for himself by organising a campaign called ‘Sing for Democracy’ in the run-up to the holding of the Eurovision Song in 2012. He had planned to organise a new campaign called ‘Sports for Rights’ ahead of the European Games. He has spent the last ten months in detention on charges that defy all credibility: in April he was sentenced to 6.5 years of imprisonment for tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of authority.


Leyla Yunus—one of Azerbaijan’s most renowned human-rights defenders —is spending her days in pre-trial detention, charged with state treason, fraud, forgery and tax evasion. She is living in clear distress and with serious health conditions such as diabetes, Hepatitis C, and kidney problems. Her husband, Arif, is also since August in a prison of the Ministry of National Security. The couple have not been allowed to meet since their arrest.

Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent investigative journalist learned the news in Kurdakhani prison that she won the PEN award [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/charlie-hebdo-and-pen-free-speech-deserves-protection-not-necessarily-an-award/]. Initially accused of inciting suicide, new bogus charges of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of authority were brought against her in February. On 14 May her pre-trial detention was extended for three more months.

Practically all the partners of human-rights organisations have been detained, subjected to pressure to disrupt their activities or have fled the country as a consequence of the reprisals the authorities orchestrated against them.

It is time to halt this, and sport can help say the three authors. “At a minimum, athletes should be aware of the social and political context in the country in which they will be competing. They might want to raise these issues with their hosts or local athletes and even use their popularity to support those who have been unjustly locked up.  We hope that they will make the right choice and use the spirit of these games to help reverse the trend of repression against those who have done nothing other than promote human rights.

One Response to “UN, Council of Europe and OSCE ask Azerbaijan to free human rights defenders ahead of 2015 Baku Games”

  1. […] UN, Council of Europe and OSCE ask Azerbaijan to free human rights defenders ahead of 2015 Baku&nbsp… […]

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