Political Repression must stop

Press release
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The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization, the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan condemn the increasing persecution of political opponents, demonstrators, their lawyers and independent journalists.

On 10 October 2011, four opposition activists received one and a half to three year prison sentences for participation in a pro-reform demonstration on 2 April 2011. These sentences followed four similar sanctions a week earlier, bringing the total number of opposition activists imprisoned for participating in peaceful anti-government rallies to 13. Since January 2011, intensive State repression has sought to disperse street protests in Baku, causing dozens of arbitrary arrests each month. On 11 March 2011, 43 protestors were arrested, including some political opposition activists. 23 people were released after questioning. In May 2011, the European Union expressed its concern about the worsening human rights situation in Azerbaijan and deplored the practice of intimidating, arresting, persecuting and convicting political activists “on criminal charges”.

Lawyers defending political opposition activists have also become a target of repression. On 16 September 2011, lawyer, Elchin Namazov, was disbarred for defending political opponents, including journalist, Ramin Baymarov, blogger, Bakhtiy ar Hajiyev, and the young activist
Rufat Hajibeyli. Namazov had received threats of imprisonment and disbarment on several previous occasions and is currently running the risk of detention. Lawyer, Khalid Bagirov’s licence was also suspended for a year on 24 August as a result of his request for the opening of an investigation into the death in custody of Elvin Askerov, a young activist who died at Baku Nizami District Police Station on 13 January 2011. Bagirov has appealed his suspension in Nasimi District Court and is waiting for a hearing to be scheduled.

On 29 September 2011, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, deplored that no measures had been taken to stop the unjustified and selective criminal prosecutions of “critical opinion makers and journalists”. The journalist Eynulla Fatullayev was released by pardon on 26 May after serving half of his eight and a half year sentence on fabricated charges of defamation, posing a terrorist threat, tax evasion and drug possession.

Fabricated charges are regularly used to arrest and silence political activists, human rights defenders and journalists. Conditions of detention are also a matter of concern, especially in police stations. Episodically, human rights defenders receive reports of torture in custody, as in the recent case of Turac Zeynalov, arrested for espionage on 29 August 2011 and found dead the next day. He was allegedly tortured by officers from the Ministry of National Security, who subsequently claimed that he had died of cancer. Despite significant improvements in prison conditions since the 1990s, prisons remain far from reaching European standards, being overcrowded and lacking in work and education programs.

Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President, declared “Azerbaijan has taken a dangerous path towards an increasingly authoritarian state, blindly repressing all critical voice. But repression never goes hand in hand with stability. FIDH calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners and the immediate end of repressive measures.”

Azerbaijan also suffers from rampant corruption. Former Minister of Health, Ali Insanov, who was arrested in 2005, had misappropriated US$2.5 billion. However, the official anti-corruption campaign which was launched in February 2011 does not target the most corrupt officials. “In the absence of political will to end corruption and to start dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition about free elections and democratic reforms, political repression is the daily reality of Azerbaijan”, commented Eldar Zeynalov, Director of the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan.

FIDH and the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan call for:

- the immediate and unconditional release of all opposition activists and independent journalists imprisoned following peaceful street protests;

- the reinstatement of all lawyers who have been disbarred for defending opponents to the regime; and

- the cessation of groundless and unjustified prosecutions against critical voices.

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