Human Rights House Foundation

Azerbaijan

Image: Jabbar Savalan 
Copyright: RFE/RL

Azerbaijan releases young activist

The 20 year old Azerbaijani activist Jabbar Savalanli, arrested last February, was pardoned late December 2011. But still more than 15 demonstrators from last years mass rallies in Baku remain imprisoned.

Monday, 09 January 2012, by HRH

Jabbar Savalanli.On December 26, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pardoned 92 prisoners, among them was Jabbar Savalanli, 20, the youngest political prisoner of the country. Savalanli was sentenced in May to 2,5 years in prison for illegal possession of drugs.

Local and international watchdogs, including Human Rights House Network (HRHN), attributed his arrest and the fabricated charge against him to his online political activity.

As blood test found, Savalanli had no record of using narcotics, so his conviction was largely based on a confession extracted under duress while he was denied access to a lawyer.

Savalanli was a member of the opposition Popular Front Party and had posted several critical statements on his Facebook site, calling for protests against the government.

From rally in Baku, March 2011.He was arrested on 4 February 2011, when youth activists were holding Arab Spring-inspired unsanctioned street demonstrations. They were protesting the government’s misuse of oil revenues, urging the government to stop corruption and to conduct free and fair elections, and respect human rights.

AMNESTY: PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE
The anti-government protests in March and April 2011 had caused the arrest of dozens of activists, of whom some were later accused under the Criminal Code and were sentenced to lengthy terms.

The government crackdown also targeted human rights organizations, including Azerbaijan Human Rights House, which the authorities closed down just days before the demonstrations took place in March.

In December, the PACE rapporteaurs to Azerbaijan Pedro Agramunt and Joseph Grech called on the president to release all 17 political prisoners arrested in connection with the protests this spring. After a meeting in Paris on 15 December, Agramunt told BBC:

From the opening of the Azerbaijan Human Rights House."We know that 17 people were arrested for political reasons, following demonstrations in the spring, and we ask the President of Azerbaijan to release them by the end of the year."

Amnesty International had recognized all the sentenced 17 activists of March and April demonstrations as the prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty International had launched an e-mail campaign to petition Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to see that Savalanli is granted an immediate and unconditional release from prison.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen, said:

“We warmly welcome Jabbar's release as a first step - but there are still 16 more prisoners of conscience dating from the spring protests languishing in jail. Their release is imperative for the cause of justice in Azerbaijan.”

PROBLEMS WITH VISA SINCE 2009
President Aliyev had issued another pardoning decree on 26 May 2011, Eynulla Fatullayev.paving the way for the release of 70 prisoners, including the well known government critic and Editor-in-Chief Eynulla Fatullayev.

Human rights activists claim up to be 80 political prisoners still remaining behind the bars purely because of their political views.

Azerbaijani authorities have effectively blocked the visit of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) special rapporteur for political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Christoph Strasser.

Strasser has not been granted visa by the Azerbaijani government to visit the country and implement his mandate since March 2009.

In a statement, the PACE spesial rapporteur welcomes the prisoner amnesty in Azerbaijan. Strasser says he "warmly welcome the liberation of these three persons", and also adding that this movement from the Azerbaijani government is a step in the right direction.

Azerbaijan’s several human rights organizations had urged President Aliyev to release all political prisoners ahead of next year's Eurovision Song Contest in Baku.

Azerbaijan won the final of the pan-European contest Eurovision, meaning it will host next year's final in Baku in May 2012, when the international spotlight will fall on Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s human rights activists are using this important opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the authorities’ human rights abuses and crackdown on critics.

EUROVISION - AN OPPORTUNITY
Many in Baku see the Eurovision Song Contest as a opportunity for Azerbaijan’s political prisoners, as President Aliyev may release them if the local and international campaign pressure grows ahead of the contest.

A large group of Azerbaijan’s rights activists had sent an open letter to President Aliyev, urging him to make substantial reforms in order to reduce the social tension in the country before the contest.

A paragraph in the open letter saying:

"The final of Eurovision 2012 will be held in Baku and will attract the attention of the world to both the contest itself and to Azerbaijan as a whole.

Therefore, we would like to draw your attention to the tense civil rights situation in the country, including violations of freedom of speech, assembly and association, and especially the issue of political prisoners, which is noted by local and international human rights organizations.

This is the alarming situation of the background against which Eurovision 2012 will be held in Baku."

HRH

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