Posts Tagged ‘Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award’

Time for Azerbaijan to quit the Council of Europe !

November 14, 2014

This video clip is an excellent introduction to the the question of whether Azerbaijan still belongs in the Council of Europe.

Azerbaijan wrapped up its chairmanship on November 13 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Azerbaijan took over as chair of the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe’s executive arm and decision-making body, back in May. Over the course of its six-month term, authorities in Baku bullied and imprisoned scores of  journalists and human rights defenders, jailing some of the country’s most prominent such as Leyla and Arif Yunus, on trumped-up charges. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov attended a ceremony in Strasbourg on November 13 marking the transfer of the chairmanship from Azerbaijan to Belgium. A document posted on the Council of Europe’s website states that “Azerbaijan deployed considerable efforts in furthering the objectives of the Council of Europe around its three key pillars – human rights, rule of law and democracy.”

This assertion makes a mockery of reality as shown by the statements of a great many actors from international NGOs, OSCE to regional defenders networks:

  • Giorgi Gogia, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch: “It can be said without exaggeration that Azerbaijan’s tenure represented an assault on the institution and everything it [the Council of Europe] stands for”.
  • Two regional networks, the Human Rights House Network and the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders, addressed an open letter to President Ilham Aliyev, detailing government rights abuses and calling for immediate changes. “We specifically call upon you [Aliyev] to immediately and unconditionally release all civil society actors currently detained due to their engagement in human rights activities and for raising critiques against Azerbaijan’s authorities”.
  • Another rights network called the Civic Solidarity Platform released the No More Business as Usual video at the top of this post,  urging policymakers in European Union member states to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its rights violations. “It is a disgrace Azerbaijan used its chairmanship … not to improve its human right record, but, on the contrary, to jail activists and journalists and to get further away from international standards of democracy and rule of law.”
  • Dunja Mijatovic, media representative of the normally careful 57-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in a statement “Practically all independent media representatives and media NGOs have been purposefully persecuted under various, often unfounded and disturbing charges“. [She spoke after Azeri blogger Mehman Huseynov was detained at Baku international airport earlier in the day while trying to depart for Georgia to attend the 11th South Caucasus Media Conference on the invitation of the OSCE. Huseynov was released after several hours of questioning. In 2012 he was hit with a three-year travel ban after being convicted of resisting and insulting police.
  • Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), on 31 October cited the case of Azerbaijani human rights defender and journalist Khadija Ismayilova in calling on OSCE participating States to refrain from pressuring or harassing individuals for their legitimate activities in supporting the promotion and protection of human rights. “Ismayilova was detained and questioned at the end of September upon returning from the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, where she raised concerns over failures by the Azerbaijani authorities to meet the country’s commitments in the area of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Link said. “I raised her case yesterday in my first report to the OSCE Permanent Council, stressing that human rights defenders have to be able to work free of harassment and intimidation.” A clear case of reprisal!
  • The Sakharov Freedom Award went to 98 Azeri prisoners: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/sakharov-freedom-award-goes-to-98-azeri-political-prisoners/
  • 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. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/azerbaijan-a-hot-summer-in-summary/

Among the many sources used:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/10/us-azerbaijan-rights-idUSKCN0IU1TG20141110

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/70901

No more business as usual for Azerbaijan – Index on Censorship | Index on Censorship.

http://www.osce.org/odihr/126225

http://humanrightshouse.org/Articles/20559.html

Sakharov Freedom Award Goes to 98 Azeri Political Prisoners

October 11, 2014

October is awards season, so you should know that the 2014 Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award recognizes 98 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. [Note : there is also the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize – of more info please go to: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards]

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s Secretary General, Bjørn Engesland, announced the award in Oslo on 6 October, noting the sad fact that Azerbaijan’s political prisoners “are too numerous to all be mentioned here.” The Committee has documented 98 political prisoners, among them 13 journalists and bloggers.  In addition, the prisoners include 10 human rights defenders and civil society activists, nine youth activists, a prominent opposition leader, “and many other opposing voices and religious activists.” The Committee noted that Azerbaijan assumed the Presidency of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers this year.“Just weeks after Azerbaijan took over the chairmanship in May 2014, a new wave of detention of activists started. In what appears as a sign of contempt against the Council of Europe institutions, this wave in particular hit human rights defenders who have worked hard with the Council for the recognition and release of Azerbaijani political prisoners.

via Sakharov Prize Goes to Azeri Political Prisoners.

Russia pursues its policy of labeling human rights defenders as ‘foreign agents’

April 26, 2013

In spite of protests by many NGOs and Governments around the world (including earlier posts in this blog), Russia seems bent on pursuing its idea of requiring all organisations which receive foreign funding and are engaged in political activity to register as ‘foreign agents’ [‘Foreign Agents’ Law of 21 November 2012] . After the passing of the law, GOLOS, Memorial and the Joint Mobile Group (just made the Final Nominee of the MEA 2013) and many other organisations declared that out of principle they would not register as ‘foreign agent’.

Yesterday, 25 April 2013, the Russian election watchdog GOLOS became the first NGO to be fined. The decision was taken by the Presnensky Court of Moscow. GOLOS is a Russian non-profit organisation which was founded in 2000 for the protection of voters’ rights and the development of civil society.  The court found that GOLOS had been receiving foreign funding, thereby implying that it considered the 2012 Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award  as such, despite testimony given by a representative of Norwegian Helsinki Committee who confirmed that GOLOS actually refused to receive the 7700$. The court also found that the advocacy work of GOLOS aimed at the introduction of amendments to the Electoral Code constitute ‘political activity’. The law does not define political activity, the precise definition of which depends on state officials’ interpretation.  The court ruled that GOLOS and its executive director Lilya Shibanova failed to comply with the obligation to register as a ‘foreign agent’ and fined them 300,000 roubles (approximately €7500) and 100,000 roubles (approximately €2500) respectively. They intend to appeal the decision.

And on 24 April Front Line Defenders reported that the Russian NGO ‘Man and the Law’ has been warned under the same Foreign Agents Law. Man and the Law, which is based in the Mari-El Republic in Russia, received a warning from the local Prosecutor’s Office re ‘political activity’, evidence for which has allegedly been found in their Charter and on their website.  Man and the Law is a local non-governmental organisation which monitors local officials’ and civil servants’ compliance with human rights standards. The NGO also works on prisoners’ rights and monitors detention facilities and organises seminars and workshops for local officials, especially from the Federal Penitentiary Service. The warning also states that the latest inspection of the organisation revealed foreign sources of funding, in which case Man and the Law should have registered as a foreign agent.Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - cropped

Related articles

First administrative case opened against election watchdog GOLOS in Russia

April 11, 2013

I have expressed concern in earlier posts about the efforts of several governments – especially Russia – who use legal and administrative means to stop or restrict the work of NGOs. Russia uses the gimmick of requiring NGOs that receive funding from abroad to register as ‘foreign agents’. Many organisations have vowed to refuse. The campaign however grinds on and now Front Line reports the first case:Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

On 9 April 2013, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation opened a case of administrative violation against the NGO ‘GOLOS’ Association for the defence of the rights of voters and its executive director Ms Lilya Shibanova. The Ministry of Justice stated on its official website that GOLOS receives foreign funding and participates in political activity, so the organisation should have registered as a ‘foreign agent’ and, by failing to do so, has infringed Article 19.34(1).  On 10 April 2013, the Ministry of Justice will transmit the administrative case against GOLOS to the court. As GOLOS and its executive director have already made public their decision not to register as ‘foreign agent’ under any circumstances, the administrative conviction may be the first step to the closure of the organisation. Read the rest of this entry »