Open Letter to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers about the increasing repression against civil society and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan

08/08/2014
Press release
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Excellencies,

As Azerbaijan currently holds the Presidency of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, the Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the increasing repression of civil society organisations and human rights defenders in the country, in violation of Articles 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Observatory therefore urges the Secretary General of the Council of Europe as well as members of the Committee of Ministers to take urgent measures about this situation, on the basis of the Rules of Procedure of the Committee.

On August 8, 2014, prosecutors began to search the apartment of Mr. Intigam Aliyev, Head of the Legal Education Society, as well as the premises of the organisation. Before these searches, Mr. Aliev had been summoned to the Investigation Department for Serious Crimes of the Prosecutor General’s Office as a witness. On the same day, the Nasimi District Court sentenced Mr. Intigam Aliyev to three months’ detention under Articles 213.1 of the Criminal Code (“evasion of taxes or contributions for compulsory social insurance in significant amount”), 308.2 (“abuse of power”), and 192.2 (“illegal business”). Also on August 8, the office of the Institute of Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) was blocked by the police and later searched, and documents and equipment were confiscated. On August 5, the border guards had not permitted the Director of IRFS, Mr. Emin Huseinov, to leave to Turkey for medical treatment.

Moreover, on August 6, human rights defenders Malahat Nasibova and Ilgar Nasibov, respectively Head and member of the Resource Center for Democracy in Nakhchivan, reported that unknown individuals tried to open and unlock the door of their apartment, damaging the mechanism.

Previously, on August 2, 2014 in Baku, Mr. Rasul Jafarov, an active participant in "Sing for Democracy" and "Art for Democracy", was put on pre-trial detention for three months pending investigation into trumped-up charges of “tax evasion”, “illegal entrepreneurship” and “abuse of authority” (under Articles 213, 192 and 308.2 of the Penal Code respectively). On July 30, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy (IPD) and a member of OMCT General Assembly, was charged with “treason” (Article 274 of the Criminal Code), “large-scale fraud” (Article (178.3.2), “forgery” (Article 320), “tax evasion” (Article 213), and “illegal business” (Article 192), and sentenced to three months pre-trial detention. Her husband, Mr. Arif Yunusov, Head of the Conflictology Department of IPD, faces similar charges of “treason” and “fraud”, and was also placed in pre-trial detention for three months on August 5. The charges against Mr. Jafarov and part of the charges against Ms. Yunus are similar to the accusations which were brought against Mr. Anar Mammadli, Chairperson of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDSC), and Mr. Bashir Suleymani, Executive Director of EMDSC. Both were sentenced for “tax evasion”, “illegal entrepreneurship”, and “abuse of authority” respectively to 5,5 years’ and 3,5 years’ imprisonment on May 26, 2014 by the Court on Grave Crimes.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe met many of these human rights defenders during his recent visit to Azerbaijan this May, and they had expressed their concern about possible negative developments.

In addition, over the past months, the Parliament of Azerbaijan adopted a set of amendments to the law on NGOs, aiming at seriously restricting NGO work. The new NGO law now provides the authorities with additional powers for temporary suspension and permanent banning of national and foreign NGOs, and introduces additional administrative requirements and increased checks. Non-registered NGOs cannot be considered recipients of grants any more. While working under non-registered grants is an administrative offence, the courts now tend to consider such funds as personal income in an attempt to persecute their recipients for tax evasion under criminal law1. In addition, the bank accounts of several NGOs and representatives were reportedly frozen upon request of the General Prosecutor’s Office, including those of the Media Rights Institute, the Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Public Union, the Democracy and Human Rights Resource Center, the Azerbaijan Lawyers Association, and the Center for National and International Studies.

All these cases are part of a pattern of harassment and intimidation by the authorities aimed at sanctioning and silencing civil society activists who speak up against human rights abuses committed by the authorities in Azerbaijan. On August 7, 2014, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights stated that “by stifling dissent, Azerbaijan is failing to comply with its international obligations which require safeguarding freedom of expression, assembly and association”, and recommended that “Azerbaijan reverse the situation”, highlighting that “a first step would be to free all those detained because of the views they expressed”2.

While it currently holds the Presidency of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Azerbaijan therefore continues to blatantly violate most of the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights, the provisions of the Committee of Ministers’ Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of February 6, 2008, as well as Resolution 1660(2009) and Recommendation 1866(2009) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

In light of this situation, the Observatory requests the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to take swift measures under the Committee Rules of Procedure to condemn the situation of human rights defenders and NGOs in Azerbaijan.

The Observatory requests in particular:

- the Secretary General and members of the Committee of Ministers to urgently convoke a Committee session on the situation of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, and to introduce a draft resolution condemning the ongoing violations, as provided by Articles 1.b and 4 of the Committee Rules of Procedure;

- the Secretary General to report to the Committee of Ministers about the systematic violations of the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs in Azerbaijan, according to Article 21.b of the Committee Rules of Procedure;

- the Secretary General and members of the Committee of Ministers to publicly condemn all the violations against human rights defenders and NGOs in Azerbaijan.

In the hope that you will be able to act expeditiously in the framework of your respective mandates, we remain at your disposal for any further information.

Yours sincerely

Karim LAHIDJI
FIDH President

Gerald STABEROCK
OMCT Secretary General

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