The Observatory: Azerbaijan: Ongoing judicial harassment against Mr. Rasul Jafarov

29/01/2015
Urgent Appeal

New information
AZE 001 / 0115 / OBS 001.1
Judicial harassment / Arbitrary detention
Azerbaijan
January 29, 2015

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicial harassment against Mr. Rasul Jafarov, who actively participated in the “Sing for Democracy” and the "Art of Democracy” movement ahead of the Eurovision song contest in Baku in May 2012, and who was planning a campaign called “Sports for Human Rights” prior to the European Games which will take place in Baku in June 2015. Mr. Jafarov is also the Head of the “Human Rights Club”, established in December 2010. Despite repeated attempts to register his NGO with the Azerbaijani government, registration was refused several times by the authorities. Mr. Jafarov was arrested on August 2, on charges of illegal entrepreneurship (Article 192 of the Criminal Code), tax evasion (Article 213) and abuse of office (Article 308). His detention term was extended by three months on October 23. On December 12, additional charges were brought against him under Articles 179.3.2 (embezzlement allegedly causing damage to third parties identified as “victims” by the investigative body) and 313 (service forgery). If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 12 years’ imprisonment.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Azerbaijan.

New information:

On January 27, 2014, the first hearing on merits took place at the Baku Grave Crimes Court, which was monitored by the Observatory in the framework of an international trial observation mission.

At the beginning of the hearing, three out of four individuals whom the investigative body had unilaterally recognised as “victims” of alleged embezzlement by Mr. Rasul Jafarov (see background information) stated they had actually no complaints against the latter, and asked the court to dismiss their “victim” status. Other individuals had made similar requests at the previous hearing on January 15. Lawyer Fariz Namazly subsequently requested the court to remove the “victim” status of all the individuals concerned, as they had not suffered any damage by Mr. Jafarov. This request was however dismissed by the judge.

In addition, at the same hearing, lawyer Fariz Namazli addressed five petitions to the court, most of which had already been formulated during the preliminary hearing (see background information).

In his first petition, he requested the court to let the defendant seat beside his lawyers during court sessions.

In his second petition, he requested a microphone to be installed in the room, so the audience could hear the parties’ arguments clearly, in line with the principle of transparency of debates.

In his third petition, he asked that the detention of Mr. Jafarov be commuted into house arrest, arguing that since the preliminary investigation is over, there is no risk that Mr. Jafarov may hide from the investigation, try to influence criminal proceedings or try to falsify evidence. To support this claim, Mr. Namazli added that the conditions and length of Mr. Jafarov’s transfer from the detention centre to the court are usually tiresome, thus affecting his ability to fully defend himself once in the courtroom, in violation of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

In his fourth petition, lawyer Fariz Namazli requested the court to drop the case and accusations against Mr. Jafarov, arguing in particular that the latter has always signed grant agreements with donors as a natural person to carry out his human rights activities, using his accounts only as an individual, and not within a legal entity.

In his fifth petition, Mr. Namazli finally requested the court to exclude from the case file an audit on Mr. Jafarov’s accounts signed by representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Taxes and the Council on State Support to NGOs, since these bodies do not have authority to investigate the activities of an individual.

While the state prosecutor opposed all the applications, the court rejected four of them, and only granted a minor one allowing Mr. Jafarov to sit next to his lawyers.

The prosecutor then read the indictment, describing the use of grants by Mr. Jafarov as "illegal business and appropriation". The investigation body alleges that Mr. Jafarov is responsible for a misappropriation of 150,636 manat, and for tax evasion amounting to 6,257 manat (around the same amount in euros).

Mr. Jafarov pleaded not guilty, declared that the charges were unclear, and asked the court to clarify the accusations of “abuse of office” and “forgery”. These requests were all dismissed by the judge.

The next hearing was adjourned to February 10, 2015.

The Observatory deplores the above-mentioned violations of the right to a fair trial, to the presumption of innocence and to the equality of arms, and calls upon the Azeri authorities to release Mr. Jafarov immediately since his detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning his human rights activities, and more generally to put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level – against him and all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.

Background information:

On January 15, 2014, a preparatory hearing was held at the Baku Grave Crimes Court, where Mr. Rasul Jafarov was put in a double iron cage. Contesting the charges against his client, lawyer Fariz Namazli stated that in the framework of his human rights activities, Mr. Rasul Jafarov had always signed grant agreements with donors as a natural person, that his accounts were used only in the framework of an individual entrepreneurship, and that he never used any attributes of a legal entity. To that end, Mr. Namazli requested the exclusion from the case file of an audit on Mr. Jafarov’s accounts signed by representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Taxes and the Council on State Support to NGOs, since these bodies do not have authority to investigate the activities of an individual.

In addition, at the same hearing, individuals whom the investigative body recognised as “victims” of alleged embezzlement in the present case stated they had actually no complaints against Mr. Rasul Jafarov, and asked the court to release him.

Accordingly, Mr. Namazli filed petitions to terminate the criminal case against his client, to commute Mr. Jafarov’s measure of imprisonment into house arrest, to audiotape or videotape all the hearings, to let the defendant seat beside his lawyers during court sessions, and to include additional documents in the case file as evidence proving the groundlessness of the charges. As the Prosecutor asked the judge reject all these petitions, the court only accepted the petition to include additional elements of the defence in the case file, and rejected all others claims of the defendant.

The trial against Mr. Rasul Jafarov is taking place amidst a wave of ever increasing repression against civil society organisations and representatives in Azerbaijan. This trial is taking place in parallel to that of Mr. Intigam Aliyev, a human rights lawyer who has represented more than 100 victims before the European Court of Human Rights. These two trials are the first in a long series intended to silence human rights defenders. Other defenders currently in pre-trial detention include Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, and Ms. Khadija Ismailova[1].

The Observatory also recalls that in May 2014, two leaders of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDSC), Messrs. Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli, were sentenced to 5,5 and 3,5 years’ imprisonment under accusations of “illegal entrepreneurship”. In addition, Talysh defender Hilal Mammadov continues to serve five years in prison following unfair proceedings lodged on the basis of spurious criminal offences.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Rasul Jafarov and all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

ii. Ensure the right to a fair trial, to the presumption of innocence and to the equality of arms is fully respected during all trials against human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.

iii. Immediately release Mr. Rasul Jafarov, as well as all the other arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, since their detentions are arbitrary and only aim at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iv. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Mr. Rasul Jafarov, and more generally against all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:

- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;

- Article 5, which underscores the right of every individual to form, join, and participate in non-governmental organizations; and

- Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

vi. Amend the domestic NGO legislation and grant legislation, and bring them in compliance with the opinion 787/2014 of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), adopted on December 15, 2014;

vii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.

Addresses:

· Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 25, (+994) 412 92 28 68, E-mail: office@pa.gov.az, office@apparat.gov.az

· Mr. Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prosecutor’s Office, 7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 82, (+994) 12 492 26 63, E-mail: z.qaralov@prosecutor.gov.az, info@prosecutor.gov.az

· Mr. Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security, Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Parliament Avenue 14, Baku AZ1006, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 493-76-22, E-mail: cpr@mns.gov.az

· Mr. Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Fax: (+994) 12 492 45 90

· Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: katiblik@mfa.gov.az

· Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail: contact@justice.gov.az; Fax (+994) 12 430 09 81

· H.E. Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, Route des Fayards 237, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland, Fax: (+41) 22 901 18 44, E-mail: geneva@mission.mfa.gov.az

· Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels, Avenue Moliere 464, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 345 91 85

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.

***

Paris-Geneva, January 29, 2015

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.


[1] The pre-trial detention of Ms. Khadija Ismailova, which was due to expire on February 5, was prolonged for two additional months on January 27 by the Sabayil District Court of Baku.

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