Posts Tagged ‘detention’

Turkey: Our hearts remain in prison again this new year

January 4, 2021

On 2 January 2021 Nurcan Baysal – the winner of the 2018 Front line award [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/18/breaking-news-five-front-line-award-winners-2018-announced/] wrote a moving piece in Ahval about her friends and colleagues who are forced to spend their New Year in prison:

“OK,” I say to the children, “We are all overwhelmed in these corona days. Let’s decorate the house, the new year is coming. Down with the corona and with 2020. Let’s enter 2021 with hope. Come on, let’s make popcorn.” While I make the popcorn, I think of my dear friend Osman Kavala, who remains in prison.

I think back to an afternoon when a few human rights defenders had gathered. Whose turn was it to host us that day? “It’s me,” said Şeyhmus. “I’ll even buy you coffee.” Şeyhmus Gökalp, member of the Turkish Medical Association’s honorary board, is now in prison.

I know a walk would do me good. I go outside to get some air. I pick up pace as Leonarda Cohen sings – “Dance with me…” It’s cold outside, but the sun is shining, and I enjoy the birds on trees. I look at the beautiful sky.

I think of novelist Ahmet Altan’s second book written in prison, where he said he would never see the sky without prison walls. The very sky devastates me.

I walk through Diyarbakır’s Bağlar district. Gentrification will begin here soon. I walk up to the building that used to host Kardelen Women’s Centre. I think back to the early 2000s, and the enthusiastic inauguration of Kardelen – literally translates to English as “snow piercer,” refers to the flower snowdrop.

After the opening, we grab a bite in a corner with the then-mayor of Diyarbakır, Gültan Kışanak, and Çağlar, a young employee of the centre. We look at the endless row of coffeehouses that have put their tables on the sidewalk, making it harder for women to walk down that street. “We will change this male-dominated mentality,” Kışanak says proudly. Çağlar is also hopeful for the future.

Both Kışanak and Çağlar Demirel are now in prison.

What should I cook tonight? I open a jar of canned vegetables I prepared with my loving mother. I’ll sauté them, and make some rice on the side.

“Mum, should we put out pickles too?” asks my son. Let’s do it. My pickles have been good this year. I open the lid and I pop one in my mouth.

Nedim wrote in a letter that he liked pickles. Journalist Nedim Türfent and dozens more are in prison.

I go to Diyarbakır’s Sur district. I go in and out of the streets of my hometown, which get stranger every day. Ruins on one street, upscale cafés on the next. A Starbucks a few yards from abject poverty and hunger.

Along the Hevsel Gardens a nice walking path has been put up. I find myself thinking about whose dream that was. “There will be days when we will walk along the Tigris,” says Selçuk.

Selçuk Mızraklı, elected co-mayor of Diyarbakır, will not be able to see his beloved hometown for 9 years, 4 months and 15 days, he is in prison.

With the coronavirus… I feel like I’ve been home for years. The feeling of being trapped and its friend despair surround me. I feel like I haven’t been able to breathe for a long time. I make coffee and go out to the yard. I look at the sky, the stars. I remember my childhood, us sleeping on the roof under the stars, how much hope we had.

Meanwhile, the former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş whispers something from his prison cell.

“When you lose hope, look up at the sky, the stars are still there.”

May 2021 bring good health, but also bring back our loved ones. Let it bring freedom to thousands of people who are imprisoned unlawfully. Let this new year bring us hope, and hope for my hometown that has been destroyed.

https://ahvalnews.com/turkey-kurds/our-hearts-remain-prison-again-new-year

Detention of the “Human Rights Day 7” in the Philippines

December 14, 2020

Fight Back News Service is circulating this 11 December 2020 joint statement from the Council of Global Unions Philippine affiliates.

We strongly deplore the simultaneous raids of residences and the consecutive arrests of trade union organizers, Dennise Velasco of Defend Jobs Philippines, Romina Astudillo, Deputy Secretary-General of Kilusang Mayo Uno-Metro Manila, Mark Ryan Cruz, Regional Executive Committee of KMU-Metro Manila, Jaymie Gregorio Jr. of KMU-Metro Manila, Joel Demate of Solidarity of Labor Rights and Welfare (SOLAR), Rodrigo Esparago of Sandigang Manggagawa sa Quezon City (SMQC) and journalist Lady Ann Salem, Communication officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, and editor for online news site Manila Today.

The raids happened dawn of December 10, International Human Rights Day, which allegedly generated an armory of high-powered rifles and explosives in each of the residences searched. Velasco, Esparago, Astudillo, Cruz, Demate, Gregoria Jr and Salem may be facing obviously manufactured charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives on this account –the same criminal charges filed against trade union activists who were arrested before them. Just a few days before Human Rights Day, Jose Bernardino of Workers Alliance in Region III (WAR III-KMU), an organizer of workers in industrial zones and jeepney drivers, and former President of the Young Christian Workers, was also arrested on the same made up criminal charges. With the Anti-Terror Law in effect, it has been an open season for arrests of activists, and it will not come as a surprise that these trade union organizers will be labelled as communist-terrorists.

This is yet another blow to the trade union movement in the Philippines. Trade union activists are being criminalized, illegally arrested and detained, as the government’s way of preventing them from organizing workers into unions and associations and depriving them their freedom of thought and expression as translated into their activities among the workers. The intensified crackdown is precisely aimed at stifling dissent and organized action among the people. Killings among activists and rights defenders, as a way of instilling fear and silencing the people, have not ceased.

We call on the Duterte government to immediately release the HRD7 workers and journalist, drop the trumped-up charges against them, and stop this detestable practice of filing manufactured criminal charges against unionists and activists.

We also call on international bodies – the UN Human Rights Council and the International Labor Organization (ILO) – to consider as an emergency the deteriorating human rights condition in the Philippines and employ all official and diplomatic venues available, including sending their missions to investigate human rights and trade union repression in the country and help reverse the situation.

We likewise call on trade unions and freedom-loving people all over the world to continue the fight for trade union and human rights in the Philippines. We shall hold to account all those responsible in these brazen human rights violations.

http://www.fightbacknews.org/2020/12/12/philippines-labor-movement-demands-release-human-rights-day-7

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/12/12/2063300/after-human-rights-day-arrests-hrw-says-there-damning-history-cops-planting-evidence

https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/multimedia/photo/12/14/20/groups-urge-release-of-human-rights-day-7

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/12/19/2064984/amnesty-govt-drop-fabricated-charges-vs-red-tagged-human-rights-day-7

Loujain al-Hathloul and her health singled out by CEDAW

November 6, 2020

On 5 November 2020 the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern at the deteriorating health condition of detained Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.

Al-Hathloul, 31, has been on a hunger strike since Oct. 26 against Al-Hair prison authorities. The prison approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Riyadh is Saudi Arabia’s largest detention center. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/23/saudi-arabia-uses-women-to-spruce-up-its-image-2-efforts/]

The committee is seriously concerned by recent information concerning the conditions of Ms. Al-Hathloul’s prolonged detention, including reports that she is not allowed regular contact with her family,” read the statement.

Her case was singled out in a call by the CEDAW to release all detained women human rights defenders ahead of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day to be observed on Nov. 29.

Al-Hathloul was involved in promoting women’s rights in her country, including campaigns to allow women to drive and end male guardianship laws. She met the CEDAW in Feb. 2018 to speak on the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

On May 15, 2018, she was arrested on the pretext of national security, which allows arbitrary arrest and detention. “In February 2020, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia assured the committee that Ms. Al-Hathloul’s trial would take place in March 2020. However, it has been postponed several times since then,” said the CEDAW.

The committee said it “is alarmed” by the recent information concerning Al-Hathloul’s prolonged detention conditions, which have prompted her to start a hunger strike.

Unlike other detainees, and contrary to UN Rules 26 and 42 that stipulates the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders, Ms. Al-Hathloul is neither allowed to have regular contact with her family nor to exercise activities, according to reports received,” CEDAW said.

Human rights defenders are entitled to “free and unhindered access” to communication without “fear or retribution”, CEDAW recalled. The Committee called these women “key partners in the dissemination, implementation and follow up of its recommendations”, and expressed concern over the situation of those facing reprisals in many parts of the world. MW 

In the meantime Lewis Hamilton has been urged to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s “appalling” human rights record after it was announced that the country will stage its first Formula One race in 2021.

Exactly because 13 women’s rights defenders are currently on trial in Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International thinks that the sports washing efforts of Saudi Arabia should be countered. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/15/dakar-rally-sports-washing-par-excellence/]

Ahead of the last race in Italy, six-time world champion Hamilton wore a T-shirt with the message: “Women’s rights are human rights.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/latest-on-coronavirus-outbreak/un-group-concerned-at-saudi-rights-activists-health/2033523#

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/11/1076942

https://www.romseyadvertiser.co.uk/sport/national_sport/18850770.lewis-hamilton-urged-take-stand-formula-one-heads-saudi-arabia/

Vietnam detaines human rights defender Pham Doan Trang just after concluding its annual human rights dialogue with the USA

October 8, 2020

Prominent Vietnamese activist Pham Doan Trang was arrested on the night of October 6 [File: Adam Bemma/Al Jazeera]
Prominent Vietnamese activist Pham Doan Trang was arrested on the night of October 6 [File: Adam Bemma/Al Jazeera]

On 7 October 2020 al-jazeera reported that Vietnam has detained prominent human rights defender and writer Pham Doan Trang just hours after the conclusion of its annual human rights dialogue with the United States. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/16/rsfs-press-freedom-award-2019-goes-to-three-women-journalists/]

Trang, a 42-year-old former journalist-turned-activist, was arrested at her home in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday night, and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda”, an offence that carries a jail term of long as 20 years, Defending the Defenders said in a statement.

So far this year, Vietnam has arrested at least 25 activists as well as 29 land petitioners, bringing the total number of prisoners of conscience to 258, the rights group added. Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, said Vietnam was taking a “scorched-earth response” to political dissent.

Despite suffering years of systemic government harassment, including severe physical attacks, Trang has remained faithful to her principles of peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy,” Robertson said. “Her thoughtful approach to reforms and demands for people’s real participation in their governance are messages the Vietnam government should listen to and respect, not repress.

Trang’s writing covers a wide range of issues including LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, the environment, and democratic activism. Most of her work is published clandestinely including the best-selling Politics for the Common People, which is akin to a guide for fledgeling activists.

She is also known for her on-the-ground activism, taking part in rallies in support of imprisoned dissidents, the environment and in response to China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Trang has been on the radar of the security forces for more than 10 years and has been detained and harassed a number of times, including while she was on her way to a meeting with then-US President Barack Obama in 2016, and, a year later, after she met a European Union delegation on a fact-finding mission ahead of its annual human rights dialogue with Vietnam.

Her latest arrest came only a few hours after Vietnam had wrapped up its annual human rights dialogue with the US. The US State Department said in a statement that the virtual meeting lasted three hours and covered a range of rights issues including “continued progress and bilateral cooperation on the rule of law, freedom of expression and association, religious freedom and labor rights”.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/7/vietnam-arrests-leading-democracy-activist-after-us-rights-talks

https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/scorched-earth-vietnam-arrests-leading-dissident-activist-and-blogger/

Nasrin Sotoudeh ends her hunger strike as UN experts write joint letter

September 27, 2020

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh
Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Sotoudeh had been on a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison since August 11 to protest the risk that political prisoners in Iran face amid the coronavirus pandemic. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/06/german-judges-give-their-human-rights-award-to-iranian-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh/%5D

On September 19, she was taken to hospital for a serious heart condition. But four days later, she was taken back to Evin prison, triggering disbelief from UN independent experts among others.

“It is unfathomable that the Iranian authorities would return Ms. Sotoudeh to prison where she is at heightened risk to COVID-19, as well as with her serious heart condition,” the experts said.

We urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision, accept her requests to recuperate at home before undergoing a heart procedure, and allow her to freely choose her own medical treatment,” they added in a statement.

The experts echoed Sotoudeh’s call for the Iranian authorities to grant temporary release to human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, and all other individuals detained without sufficient legal basis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

47 countries called on Iran to “protect the human rights of all its citizens and release all political prisoners and arbitrarily detained” in a Friday session of the UN Human Rights Council, according to a German diplomat, Susanne Baumann:

Susanne Baumann
@GERMANYonUN
Joint Statement on the dire human rights situation in Iran today in the Human Rights Council #HRC45, presented by Germany on behalf of 47 countries. We call on Iran to protect the human rights of all its citizens and release all political prisoners & arbitrarily detained.
———

https://www.rferl.org/a/jailed-iranian-human-rights-defender-ends-hunger-strike-as-health-deteriorates/30859117.html

https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iran/26092020

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2009/S00203/iran-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-must-be-freed-for-treatment-say-un-experts.htm

8 UN experts join in letter to Algeria about Khaled Drareni

September 18, 2020

A journalist jailed for his coverage of mass protests in Algeria must be released, United Nations independent experts said on Wednesday. Khaled Drareni was jailed for two years on Tuesday as a crackdown on dissent intensifies after a year of anti-government demonstrations. He was jailed for his coverage of the protest movement that toppled the North African country’s longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year. Drareni was initially handed three years but his sentence was reduced by a year on appeal. However, his lawyers were shocked that he was not handed a more lenient judgment or an acquittal.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this two-year prison sentence imposed on a journalist who was simply doing his job, and call on the Algerian authorities to reverse it and set Mr Drareni free,” the experts said. The experts do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it. Although his sentence was reduced, “it is still grossly inappropriate because the charges brought against him are a blatant violation of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and of association”, they said.

The eight signatories included the special rapporteurs on peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and human rights defenders, along with members of the UN working group on arbitrary detention. They said they were alarmed that the Algerian authorities were increasingly using national security laws to prosecute people who were exercising their rights. “Drareni, and all the others currently in prison, or awaiting trial simply for doing their job and defending human rights must be immediately released and protected,” they said.

http://north-africa.com/2020/09/algeria-united-nations-independent-experts-pressuring-algeria-to-release-wrongly-jailed-journalist/

German Judges give their human rights award to Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

September 6, 2020

Radio Farda reported that the German Judges Association (DRB) has awarded its Human Rights Prize to the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who is currently on a hunger strike in an Iranian prison in protest to the conditions of political prisoners. For more information on this and other awards see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/german-association-of-judges-human-rights-award

Nasrin Sotoudeh has become a symbol of the Iranian civil rights movement through her courage and tireless commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” the presidents of the German Judges Association said on Wednesday. Barbara Stockinger and Joachim Lüblinghoff stated that now more than ever, Ms. Sotoudeh needs wide international support, and that they wanted to honor her “highly impressive commitment in Iran and to bring her fate to the public attention”.

The 57-year-old lawyer and rights activist began a hunger strike at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison on August 11 to protest the “unfair” and “illegal” conditions of political prisoners in Iran. She has demanded the release of political prisoners to protect them from the spread of coronavirus in prisons.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/24/list-of-lawyers-imprisoned-in-iran-for-defending-human-rights/. Iranian authorities have freed tens of thousands of prisoners since the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, but have refused to grant furlough to political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience, including Sotoudeh.

Sotoudeh, an international award-winning lawyer and rights activist, was been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison and 148 lashes on several charges, including conspiracy against national security, spreading lies and disturbing public opinion.

Earlier this year, Sotoudeh went on a hunger strike to protest the maltreatment of political prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. She previously staged a 49-day hunger strike in prison in 2012 while she was serving another sentence for her human rights work. On Wednesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde expressed deep concern about Sotoudeh’s health and said she wanted to reiterate the EU’s call for her sentence to be reviewed. In a statement on August 28, the American PEN association called for the immediate release of Sotoudeh and other political prisoners, as well as an end to judicial and legal harassment of her and her family. 

Mary Lawlor calls death of human rights defender Askarov a stain on Kyrgyzstan’s reputation,

July 31, 2020

The death in prison of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, who for 10 years had unsuccessfully challenged his life sentence, shows a cruel disregard for human rights in Kyrgyzstan, says said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/26/kyrgyzstan-activist-askarov-dies-in-prison-after-decade-battling-tainted-conviction/

I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Mr. Askarov’s death, despite multiple requests for his release on humanitarian grounds as his health deteriorated significantly in prison,”

Although the Kyrgyz Government shared detailed information on court proceedings and medical care afforded to Askarov, she criticized the government for not taking concerns about his health seriously.

“We learned in June that, in the midst of COVID-19, and despite his age and pre-existing conditions, Mr. Askarov did not qualify for early release under Kyrgyz law,” Lawlor said. “I now question whether more could have been done to protect his health.”

In the days before Askarov’s death, his lawyer made a number of urgent medical appeals to authorities after the 69-year-old fell ill with a cough, fever, aches and pains, and had difficulty eating and walking. It was only on 24 July 2020, when he had already been sick for 10 days, that he was transferred to a prison medical facility, where he died the following day.

“Mr. Askarov’s case should act as a reminder to all states of the serious and grave threat that prisoners in at-risk categories face during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. She stressed that human rights defenders and all those detained without sufficient legal basis, or most at risk of the virus, should be released…

Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.

https://akipress.com/news:646397:Death_of_human_rights_defender_Azimjan_Askarov_a_stain_on_Kyrgyzstan_s_reputation,_says_UN_expert/

Kyrgyzstan: Activist Askarov dies in prison after decade battling tainted conviction

July 26, 2020

Jul 25, 2020 Rights activist Azimjan Askarov, seen here holding one of his self-portraits in his basement prison cell in February 2012. (Photo: Nate Schenkkan) Rights activist Azimjan Askarov, seen here holding one of his self-portraits in his basement prison cell in February 2012. (Photo: Nate Schenkkan)

EURasia.net of 25 July 2020 gives the sad new that Azimjan Askarov, a celebrated ethnic Uzbek humn rights defender, husband to Hadidja Askarova, has died in prison at the age of 69.

The news of his death on July 25 was confirmed by his longtime friend, supporter and fellow activist Tolekan Ismailova and his lawyer, Valeryan Vakhitov. He had suffered from poor health for much of his 10 years in prison, but his condition worsened significantly in the past two weeks. Vakhitov, who visited Askarov in prison only a few days before his death, said his client had lost his appetite, that his skin “looked yellowish in color,” and that he was unable to move unaided.

On July 24, prison officials dismissed those concerns and the reports of Askarov’s ill-health as “inaccurate information.” [https://www.rferl.org/a/jailed-rights-activist-askarov-transferred-to-different-kyrgyz-prison-amid-reports-of-poor-health/30745718.html]

Although the likelihood of Askarov’s imminent death had been widely anticipated, the actual event has stunned his longtime colleagues and the rights community.

I am devastated. When we saw one another for the last time, they brought him to me in their arms. I told him: ‘Please hang on, we love you,’ and he began crying. He seemed to feel something,” Vakhitov told Kloop news website.

Askarov was arrested on June 15, 2010, in the immediate aftermath of a deadly whirlwind of ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan that killed hundreds, mostly ethnic Uzbeks.

In the days, weeks and months that followed that bloodshed, security services mainly targeted ethnic Uzbeks for investigations, arrests and systematic harassment. Askarov was among the first to be singled out for this treatment.

He was charged with purported involvement in the killing of a police officer on June 13, 2010, in the southern town of Bazar-Korgon. Immediately after his arrest, Askarov was beaten, subjected to abuse and denied access to his lawyer. He spoke about some of that mistreatment in an interview with Eurasianet in 2012, two years into his life sentence.

“They nearly killed me,” he said, referring to local police. “They held my arms behind my back, and took a weight filled with water, and hit me with it [in the stomach]. They hit me over the head with it so that huge lumps rose up.” He also said he saw witnesses beaten bloody to force them to testify against him….

In 2016, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that Kyrgyzstan had in its treatment of Askarov violated multiple articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Askarov’s initial criminal trial, as well as subsequent appeals, have been decried by legal experts as miscarriages of justice. Many supposed witnesses were intimidated into giving testimonies and people who would have spoken in his defense were denied that opportunity. Perhaps most ominously, hearings were routinely attended by relatives of the alleged murder victim, who openly threatened Askarov and his legal team with death. This pattern repeated over many years.

But as Philip Shishkin, a journalist, noted in his 2013 book Restless Valley, “of the many interesting things about the case, one detail stands out: the verdict relies heavily on the testimony of a half dozen policemen who had reasons to dislike Askarov even before his alleged participation in the murder of their colleague.”

Much of his 15 years of activism was focused on highlighting and documenting allegations of police abuse in his native Bazar-Korgon, including by some of the officers that then pursued his case…

In one typical rebuttal of criticism from 2015, the Foreign Ministry asserted that “the decision of the court was taken on the basis of undeniable evidence, Askarov’s guilt has been proven in all instances.”

“The Kyrgyz Republic stands for the supremacy of the law. The justice system is an independent branch of power,” the ministry said at the time.

There is strong reason to believe, however, that the government allowed itself to be taken hostage by the same kind of combustible, deeply violence-prone nationalist elements that lay behind the ethnic bloodshed of June 2010. Many notorious criminals have been allowed to walk free from prison in Kyrgyzstan over the decades, but as officials saw it, affording that same treatment to Askarov would have threatened to spark another cycle of unrest, immaterial of the legal particulars.

This reading was all but confirmed in an interview given to Eurasianet in 2018 by Roza Otunbayeva, who was interim president at the time of the ethnic unrest and Askarov’s arrest. Asked about the Askarov case, she evinced regret, but concluded that “it was a decision of our court. And this court’s decision was [upheld].” She did, however, have the authority to issue a pardon, which she declined to do.

“It was a decision that [would] again [have broken] the country,” she told Eurasianet. “I mean, the stability of the country, political consensus within the country was very much bound to such a touchy issue. And it was a very high price.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/23/fury-about-us-award-for-askarov-in-kyrgyzstan-backlash-or-impact/.

https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-activist-askarov-dies-in-prison-after-decade-battling-tainted-conviction

Azerbaijan: OMCT campaigns for human rights defender Elchin Mammad

May 26, 2020

Azerbaijani Human Rights Defender Elchin Mammad is one the cases in the  #FacesOfHope campaign by OMCT to which I referred yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/25/faces-of-hope-campaign-human-rights-defenders-imprisoned-worldwide/].

As a human rights lawyer and journalist, Elchin Mammad is used to speaking his mind. The 42-year old attorney presides over the Social Union of Legal Education of Sumgait Youth (SULESY), a non-governmental organisation that provides free legal assistance to low income families and non-profits. His busy schedule also includesda job as the editor in chief of Yukselish Namine, a newspaper specializing in human rights concerns. On 30 March 2020, a few days after he had published online a critical report on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, police officers arrested Elchin at his home in Sumgait, a town north of the capital Baku. The police claimed to have found stolen jewellery at his office.

The next day, Sumgait City Court remanded Elchin Mammad in custody for three months as a criminal suspect. The father of two young children remains detained under trumped-up charges at Shuvalan pre-trial detention centre no. 3. This latest twist is nothing new to Elchin. He has faced harassment from the authorities in connection with his human rights work since 2015, when his organisation was investigated. He was subjected to arbitrary detention, repeatedly summoned and questioned by the police. He was also placed under travel restrictions in connection with the investigation.

On 15 May, the government officially stated that there are 46 COVID-19 infected inmates in the country. This puts Elchin’s life at risk, particularly as he suffers from hepatitis C. Azerbaijan’s prison system is plagued by severe overcrowding, while food, medication, sanitation, and even drinking water are substandard. This has led to the European Court of Human Rights repeatedly ruling that detention conditions in the country amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. In times of pandemic, such an environment risks becoming an incubator for the novel coronavirus.

Elchin’s case is particularly emblematic of the Azerbaijani authorities’ abusive and arbitrary methods used to silence critical voices. In 2014, the government launched an unprecedented crackdown on civil society. Prominent human rights defenders joined other political prisoners in Azerbaijan’s jails, on fabricated criminal charges of financial irregularities. Although most were released after spending years in prison, as a result of international pressure, the situation of defenders remains precarious

The authorities have seized the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to intensify the crackdown on civil society. On 19 March, President Ilham Aliyev used his yearly address to the nation on the Novruz Bayrami holiday to promise “new rules” for the duration of the pandemic, threatening to clear the country of “traitors” and “enemies” and to “isolate the fifth column”. To people like Elchin, who has dedicated his life to the defence of the downtrodden, these ominous words might now ring like a death sentence.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/26/azerbaijan-finally-full-acquittal-of-ilqar-mammadov-and-rasul-jafarov/

https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/statements/azerbaijan/2020/05/d25855/