Azerbaijan: "we have no claims against Mr. Rasul Jafarov"

27/02/2015
Press release

The Observatory has been informed about the ongoing judicial harassment against Mr. Rasul Jafarov, who actively participated in the “Sing for Democracy” and the "Art for 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 February 24, a hearing was held in the trial against Mr. Jafarov at the Baku Grave Crimes Court. The hearing was attended by a trial observer mandated by the Observatory.

During the hearing, Ms. Gunay Ismayilova was questioned as a witness. She said that she took part in a project implemented by Mr. Rasul Jafarov in early 2013, that she received the amount stated in her contract, and that she signed the corresponding receipt. In response to questions from the defence, she said that Mr. Rasul Jafarov worked in an office from July to December 2013 for which a contract was signed, and that the rent was paid to the landlord through her. She added that the contract was signed in accordance with the legislation, and that documents confirming the receipt of the rent had always been duly signed.

Earlier during the hearing, the landlord, Mr. Jahangir Ahmadov, recognised as a “victim” by the investigative body, said that he indeed rented his apartment to Ms. Gunay Ismailova, adding that he did not know why he had been recognised as a victim, and that he had never suffered any material damage from Mr. Rasul Jafarov.

Then, Mr. Nijat Imranli, another person identified as a victim, presented a written testimony to the court. He said the reason why he submitted his testimony in writing was that the investigative body had deliberately distorted his statement, assigning him the victim status although he had not suffered any damage. Mr. Imranli initially wrote a script for a documentary, and prepared a report for the Human Rights Club. Such services were provided in a contract in two copies signed by him and Mr. Jafarov. Mr. Imranli asserted that he was ready to present the receipt of the amount he received to the court, and that such a receipt was written and signed by himself. Mr. Imranli concluded that he was not a victim, and requested that his name be removed from the victims’ list.

Afterwards, witness Azer Gasimov testified, saying that he had signed a contract, prepared a video clip, received the amount stated in the contract, and signed a receipt.

Finally, Mr. Elnur Mammadov, the Chairman of the Volunteers International Cooperation Public Union, was also called to testify as a witness. He said that one of the projects led by Mr. Rasul Jafarov was carried out by his organisation, that all the funds were spent for the purposes envisaged in the project, and that relevant reports were sent to the donor. In response to a question regarding the office of the Volunteers International Cooperation Public Union, he said that he indeed signed a rent contract allowing Mr. Rasul Jafarov to use the office for the concerned project.

The hearing was attended by civil society representatives, international observers, and representatives of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands embassies.

The next hearing will be held on March 5, at 10.30 am.

The Observatory notes that during the February-24 hearing, all the persons recognised as “victims” by the investigative body and who were called to testify eventually called on the court to dismiss their victims’ status, since they had never suffered any material damage from Mr. Rasul Jafarov. The Observatory hopes that the court will satisfy their demands, in line with the principles of due process and presumption of innocence.

The Observatory more generally 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 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.

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 unilaterally recognised as “victims” of alleged embezzlement by Mr. Rasul Jafarov stated he had actually no complaints against the latter, and asked the court to dismiss his “victim” status. 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 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.

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. On that day, at the start of the hearing, Mr. Jafarov refused to testify, arguing that the indictment was not clear to him.

Accordingly, the judge read out the statement Mr. Jafarov provided during the preliminary investigation on July 31, 2014. In his statement, Mr. Rasul Jafarov reportedly noted that he founded an organisation named the “Human Rights Club” together with two other human rights defenders, and submitted the organisation’s documents to the Ministry of Justice for registration. However, since the organisation was not registered by the Ministry, he had to sign grant agreements as a physical person. In December of 2012, within the framework of the “Art for Democracy” campaign, he received a financial assistance of 2,000 manat from the United Kingdom embassy to present the project and hold an event at the Jazz Center. The event was attended by British and French ambassadors as well as other officials.

In his statement, Mr. Jafarov also noted that he had signed grant contracts with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), People in Need and Fritt Ord, that all the activities envisaged in his projects had been implemented, and that information on such implementation was published in the media. He further stated that grant funds intended for these projects had been transferred to his personal bank accounts.

Mr. Jafarov also highlighted that after the adoption of the amendments on NGO laws in 2013, prohibiting activities in the framework of unregistered NGOs, the activities of the Human Rights Club were suspended. In order to continue his human rights activities, Mr. Jafarov therefore applied to, and became a member of, the state-registered Legal Protection and Awareness Society (LPAS). From then onwards, grant contracts were signed between LPAS and the German Marshall Fund and NED, and the funds for these projects were transferred to the organisation’s bank account. On June 9, 2014, during a general meeting of LPAS, Mr. Jafarov was elected as Chairman of the Board. However, this election was not registered by the Ministry of Justice.

At the same February-10 hearing, the protocol of interrogation of Mr. Jafarov as the accused person was subsequently read out: during this interrogation, Mr. Jafarov confirmed the statement that he had provided during the preliminary investigation, and highlighted that he did not consider himself guilty of the announced charges.

Replying to a question of the public prosecutor, asking why the above-mentioned grants had not been registered, Mr. Jafarov said, one the one hand, that the Azeri legislation did not provide any registration mechanism for grants received by physical persons and that at the time, the Ministry of Justice did not have any register in place for grants received by physical persons, and further stated, on the other hand, that after the adoption of the legislative amendments prohibiting unregistered NGOs to implement grants, projects were implemented through the LPAS.

Then, Mr. Anar Jabiyev (Nagilbaz), who was also designated as a “victim” by the investigative body, stated that he had received the full amount of 1,720 manat indicated on a document from Mr. Jafarov to compose a song calling citizens to participate in the 2013 presidential election as well as to record a video clip. Mr. Jabiyev added that in the statement he provided to the investigative body one year later, he had mentioned an amount of 1,200 manat as he did not remember the exact amount. He further specified that after returning home, checking his notebook and realising that the amount was different, he had made an application to the Prosecutor General’s Office for re-questioning, which was not granted, and that he was only questioned again after being assigned the victim status. He concluded that he did not have any claim against Mr. Rasul Jafarov, and requested the repeal of his victim status.

Similarly, during the February-10 hearing, another alleged “victim”, Mr. Ahmad Heybatov, who made a video about the election, stated that he received an amount of 1,720 manat, adding that during his interrogation, investigators forced him to mention a figure, and that since he could not remember the exact amount, he said he thought it was around 800 manat. However, after returning home and checking the exact figure, he sent a letter to the investigative body, asking them to be allowed to provide a statement with the correct amount, and to be interrogated again. However, he was likewise interrogated again only after being granted the “victim” status by the investigative body. He concluded that he did not have any claim against Mr. Rasul Jafarov, and requested the repeal of his victim status.

Furthermore, another person identified as a victim, Mr. Seymur Verdizade, said that he did not know Mr. Rasul Jafarov personally, that he did not have any claims against him either, and that his victim status should also be repealed.
The other two persons identified as victims did not attend the February-10 hearing.

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. 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;

iii. Dismiss the victims’ status of all the above-mentioned persons called to testify, in line with the principles of due process and presumption of innocence, since they declared during the hearings to have never suffered any material damage from Mr. Rasul Jafarov;

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, February 27, 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.

Read more