Azerbaijan: Arbitrary detention of Anar Mammadli

Hikmat Gafarzada

In a context of increasing crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan, more than 30 organisations including OMCT and FIDH in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders call for the immediate release of Anar Mammadli and urge the authorities of Azerbaijan to end reprisals against human rights defenders in the country.

We, the undersigned human rights organisations, condemn in strongest possible terms the Azerbaijani authorities’ detention of Anar Mammadli, a prominent human rights defender, leader of the country’s largest independent election watchdog and member of the Network of Human Rights Houses. We demand his immediate and unconditional release.

Anar Mammadli leads the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS), which is a member of Human Rights House Azerbaijan. Before and after the recent presidential elections of 7 February 2024, state-controlled media targeted Mammadli and EMDS in a relentless smear campaign. We fear that his detention, so soon after the elections, is an act of retaliation for his independent and legitimate election observation efforts and human rights work.

According to people close to Mammadli and to media accounts, Mammadli was forced into a car in the afternoon of 29 April 2024 in Baku and detained. Police prevented his lawyer from being present during the search of his home, and the search of his parents’ home was also carried out in the absence of a lawyer. This pattern of violation of legal requirements has become emblematic in cases of political persecution.

On 30 April 2024, Khatai District Court of Baku ordered a 3 month and 28 day pretrial detention. Mammadli was charged with “smuggling by a group” under article 206.3.2 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code. His case is reportedly joined to that of Abzas Media journalists, whose detention in November 2023 signalled the start of another brutal crackdown against free media and remaining fragments of the independent civil society. Since then, over a dozen journalists and human rights defenders have been put behind bars on spurious accusations, while another media platform, Toplum TV was raided in March 2024. Reports emerged about alleged torture, ill-treatment and other violations of the rights of detainees.

Civil society groups have estimated that the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan currently stands at over 288. Mammadli is the latest victim of government efforts to eradicate dissent and bring any attempts at legitimate human rights defence work to a standstill, a few months before Azerbaijan is due to host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP29 in November 2024 in Baku.

Mammadli’s detention should also be understood as a direct reprisal for his independent and legitimate election observation efforts and human rights work. This includes his involvement in international advocacy at the UN Human Rights Council and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in March 2024, when he spoke at side events organised by international civil society organisations. At these events and elsewhere, Mammadli highlighted violations of fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan, calling for freedom for political prisoners and improved legal and political environment for human rights defenders. These calls were also in line with the recommendations of the recently formed Climate of Justice Initiative, a civil society project in Azerbaijan that seeks to use COP29 as an opportunity to restore civic space in the country.

Mammadli was previously imprisoned for his election-related work following the 2013 presidential elections in Azerbaijan. He served two-and-a-half years in prison and was internationally recognised as a political prisoner. He won the prestigious Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, awarded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2014. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found his detention to be politically motivated. Despite persistent calls from the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, Azerbaijani authorities still have not fully implemented this judgement. Azerbaijan’s previous wrongful conviction of Mammadli has not been quashed yet, his civil and political rights have not been restored and he has not been compensated.

We demand Anar Mammadli’s immediate and unconditional release.

We also call on the Azerbaijani authorities to:

  • Drop all charges against Anar Mammadli;
  • Respect Azerbaijan’s binding international obligations and implement the ECtHR judgement on Mammadli group of cases fully;
  • Stop the persecution of independent voices in the country and unconditionally release all political prisoners;
  • Respect and protect the rights of independent civil society and media in their legitimate role within society.

We urge the United Nations and Council of Europe bodies, as well as the European Union institutions and all like minded states to use the momentum created by COP29 in Baku to:

  • Raise the issue of growing numbers of political prisoners with Azerbaijani authorities on all bilateral and multilateral platforms and request to put an end to the persecution of critical voices;
  • Demand immediate release of all political prisoners and restoration of their rights;
  • Ensure that when a country is being assessed as a potential host for global megaevents and conferences , such as COP29, their record with respect to political prisoners, and provision of an enabling environment for human rights defenders and wider independent civil society is a benchmark for eligibility.
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  • Co-signatories

    Belarusian Helsinki Committee

    Educational Human Rights House – Chernihiv

    FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)

    Human rights center “Viasna” (Belarus)

    Human Rights House Banja Luka and its member organisation:

    Center for Environment

    Human Rights House Crimea and its member organisations:

    CCE “Almenda”
    Regional Center for Human Rights
    Human Rights Centre ZMINA

    Human Rights House Foundation

    Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member organisations:

    Human Rights Center (HRC)
    Media Institute
    Rights Georgia
    The Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims – GCRT

    Human Rights House Zagreb and its member organisations:

    Centre for Peace Studies
    Documenta – Center for Dealing with the Past

    Human Rights Watch

    The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

    Index on Censorship (United Kingdom)

    International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)

    Legal Education Society (Azerbaijan)

    Mental Health and Human Rights Info (Norway)

    Netherlands Helsinki Committee

    World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    PEN Belarus

    Zdravo da ste (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

  • Member organisations - Azerbaijan
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