Azerbaijan: several human rights defenders free at last, while others remain behind bars

Press release

Paris-Geneva, March 18, 2016 - The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) welcomes the release yesterday of human rights defenders Rauf Mirqadirov, Rasul Jafarov, Anar Mammadli and Hilal Mammadov, and calls on the Azeri authorities to release those still detained, including Khadija Ismayilova and Intigam Aliyev.

On March 17, Rasul Jafarov, founder of the "Sport for Rights" campaign, was released by presidential pardon decree just a few hours after the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in his case, condemning Azerbaijan for violating his right to personal liberty. Messrs. Anar Mammadli, Head of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDSC), and Hilal Mammadov, Chief Editor of the newspaper Tolyshi sado (The Voice of Talysh), were also included in the presidential decree, along with 12 other political prisoners. Earlier in the morning, Rauf Mirqadirov, former correspondent of the Zerkalo newspaper in Turkey, was released by the Baku Court of Appeals, which commuted his six-year prison sentence into a suspended five-year sentence. Mr. Mirqadirov had been arbitrarily detained since April 2014 on trumped-up charges of "State treason".

"We are so relieved that many of those fighting for freedoms in Azerbaijan are now free. We nonetheless regret that independent journalist Khadija Ismayilova and prominent human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev are still unjustly detained, and call for their immediate and unconditional release", FIDH Honorary President Souhayr Belhassen said today.

"While we rejoice for those being released yesterday, we note that many others are yet to be released”, said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. "Others like our colleague Leyla Yunus, Head of the Institute for Peace and Democracy and OMCT General Assembly member, and her husband Arif Yunusov, do not figure on the list of those pardoned, which prevents them from accessing life-saving medical treatment in Berlin".

Most of the above-mentioned human rights defenders were arrested between April and December 2014 as part of a crackdown of Azeri authorities on civil society, while Azerbaijan was chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Throughout 2015, the Observatory has tirelessly mobilised for their release, in particular through a fact-finding mission in Azerbaijan, a series of trial observations, and sustained advocacy before intergovernmental organisations such as the Council of Europe. In June 2015, after a heated debate and the adoption of a series of amendments, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had passed a landmark resolution calling for the release of human rights defenders and all political prisoners. On October 2015, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland had suspended the Council’s participation in a Baku-based Joint Working Group on Human Rights, echoing a recommendation of the Observatory. Eventually, in December 2015, the Secretary General decided to launch an enquiry under the rarely used Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights to investigate Azerbaijan’s persistent violation of the Convention.

The Observatory calls on the Azeri authorities to release Ms. Khadija Ismayilova and Mr. Intigam Aliyev immediately and unconditionally, to drop all charges against Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov, and to lift the travel ban on Leyla and Arif Yunus, so they can benefit from required medical care abroad. The Observatory more generally calls on the Azeri authorities to conform in any circumstances with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as well as international and European standards such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.

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