On 13 September 2016, Human Rights House Foundation delivered the following statement to the Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, under agenda Item 3 of the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council.
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Thank you Mr Chairperson,
The Human Rights House Foundation welcomes the visit of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Azerbaijan, held from 16 to 25 May 2016, and its preliminary findings.
The Working Group took into account the pardon decree signed by the President of Azerbaijan on 17 March 2016, which resulted in the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscious. However, the Working Group did not observe any significant change in the country with respect to Azerbaijan depriving persons of their liberty. The Working Group holds that Azerbaijan continues to detain human rights defenders, journalists, and political and religious leaders on criminal or administrative charges to silence them and to impair their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. These practices are an abuse of authority and violate Azerbaijan’s obligations to uphold the rule of law.
The Working Group met with human rights defenders, journalists, and political and religious leaders in detention facilities, including prisons, as well as persons who had served their sentence or were pardoned. It received a list of some 70 human rights defenders, journalists, and political and religious leaders currently detained on a broad range of charges, such as drugs and arms related offences, hooliganism, and tax evasion.
Most recently, the authorities in Azerbaijan have unleashed a wave of arrests in the run-up to the national referendum on expanding presidential powers, to be held on 26 September 2016.
The proposed amendments would prolong the presidential term from five to seven years and introduce the posts of first vice president and vice president. They would enable the authorities to restrict the right to freedom of assembly based on “public order and morality,” and the right to property in the interests of “social justice and effective land use.” It would also allow the authorities to withdraw Azerbaijani citizenship “in accordance with the law.”
During this latest wave, the authorities have arrested activists Natig Jafarli, Elshan Gasimov, Togrul Ismayiıov, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, and Elgiz Qahreman for criticising the referendum and participating in peaceful protests and actions.
Prominent activist and former political prisoner Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was arrested on 15 August, and may be charged with disorderly conduct, according to his lawyer.
Elgiz Qahreman of NIDA Youth Movement, who was missing for four days in August, is being detained by the Department Against Organised Crime. He has been sentenced to four months of pre-trial detention and he could face 5 to 12 years in prison for drug charges. The authorities in Azerbaijan also use “organisational charges” such as fraud and tax evasion against human rights defenders, journalists and, activists to legally justify politically motivated detentions, in addition to charges such as hooliganism or consumption of illegal narcotics.
Natig Jafarli, co-founder and leader of the Republican Alternative Movement (ReAl), was arrested on 12 August and charged by a court in Baku for “illegal business” and “abuse of official powers, when such actions lead to serious consequences or are committed with the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election (referendum)” and was sentenced to four-months of pre-trial detention. He was released on 9 September 2016. Prior to Natig Jafarli’s arrest, ReAl had been campaigning against the referendum and had begun to collect signatures as a referendum campaign group. Natig Jafarli has led ReAl since the imprisonment of its leader Ilgar Mammadov, whose detention has been described by the European Court of Human Rights as a method to “silence or punish [him] for criticizing the government,” while the Council of Europe has repeatedly called for the release of Ilgar Mammadov, who is now in his fourth year of imprisonment.
Hilal Mamamdov, defender of the rights of the Talysh ethnic minority and Editor-in-chief of the Tolishi-Sado (Voice of Talysh) newspaper, was arrested in June 2013. He is one of many independent journalists, human rights defenders, and activists that (also) remains behind bars in Azerbaijan. His ongoing detention contravenes a March 2014 opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2013/59) of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
In the Republic of Azerbaijan, the authorities use arbitrary detention to silence independent voices and intimidate political opponents. Human Rights House Foundation calls on the authorities in Azerbaijan to cease their use of arbitrary detention, and to end the wave of arrests related to the referendum.
Azerbaijan must immediately end the systematic punishment of civil society leaders and implement the views and recommendations of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) expected to be presented at the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council, including its opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2013/59) delivered on 27 March 2014, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Hilal Mammadov, and his right to receive appropriate compensation.
UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visit to Azerbaijan in May 2016
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention presented its pleminary findings from its visit to Azerbaijan in May 2016. This will serve as the basis for deliberations, and the Working Group will officially adopt and submit its report to the Human Rights Council in September 2017.