Azerbaijan continues to trend away from human rights

Hundreds of people peacefully protested in the streets of Baku on Saturday 26 January 2013 and 47 were arrested, including prominent human rights defenders and journalists.

On Saturday 26 January 2013 hundreds of people peacefully demonstrated in Baku, Azerbaijan, to express solidarity with recent protesters across the country, including the 23 January 2013 protests in Ismayilli. The social unrest in Ismayilli was triggered by widespread corruption in the region.

Intigam Aliyev and Malahat Nasibova (in the back) being arrested at the peaceful protests in Baku on 26 January 2013. (© IRFS)

The police and plain clothed agents dispersed the Baku peaceful protest on 26 January and to our knowledge 47 demonstrators were detained. Among them were the prominent human rights blogger Emin Milli, the human rights defender and Rafto Award laureate Malahat Nasibova, the human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, as well as the investigative journalist and Fritt Ord Foundation and ZEIT Foundation Award laureate Khadija Ismayilova. All of them are close partners of the Human Rights House Network.

Although Malahat Nasibova and Intigam Aliyev were released quickly, a fine was imposed on Khadija Ismayilova and the highest penalty was imposed on Emin Milli who was sentenced to administrative detention for 15 days.

REPRISAL AGAINST THOSE COOPERATING WITH COUNCIL OF EUROPE

The arrests happen two days after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan and call upon the authorities to stop attacks and harassment against  human rights defenders. The Azerbaijani human rights defenders present in Strasbourg held joint press conference in the Council of Europe buildings on Wednesday 23 January 2013.

NGO press conference on 23 January 2013 at Council of Europe (Strasbourg): Rasul Jafarov (Human Rights Club), Rashid Hajili (Media Rights Institute), Maria Dahle (HRHF), Emin Huseynov (Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety) and on the far right Malahat Nasibova (Nakhchivan Regional Resource Centre for NGO Development and Democracy)

At that press conference, the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) Executive Director Maria Dahle denounced Azerbaijan’s trend away from human rights. Rasul Jafarov, the head of the Human Rights Club and coordinator of the Sing for Democracy and Art for Democracy campaigns, called upon Azerbaijan authorities to fully implement its European commitments and obligations and stop harassing human rights defenders. Rashid Hajili, Directof of the Media Rights Institute underlined that political prisoners is still a reality in Azerbaijan and that the release of some is not a sign of a change in the political situation in the country. Emin Huseynov, leader of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, said that ahead of the presidential elections, the situation for human rights defenders and journalists will become even more tense. Malahat Nasibova from the Nakhchivan Regional Resource Centre for NGO Development and Democracy underlined that the situation is even worse in the regions of the country, including in the Autonomous Region Nakhchivan.

AZERBAIJAN AUTHORITIES TARGET SPECIFIC DEFENDERS AND JOURNALISTS

The recent arrests are a sign of the situation in Azerbaijan becoming more and more difficult for critical voices and the willingness of authorities to repress those voices their critics and monitoring human rights violations in the country.

The fact that Emin Milli is again in detention and that Khadija Ismayilova is a symbol of this repression of credible, internationally respected and prominent voices. By arresting within a crowd of protesters also prominent human rights defenders such as Malahat Nasibova and Intigam Aliyev, Azerbaijan authorities show that they use detention as a tool to punish critical voices and show that they know who is participating at demonstrations and can arrest anybody at any time.

HRHN letter of concern:

In a letter to President Ilham Aliyev on 5 February 2013, members and partners of the Human Rights House Network (HRHN) called for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defenders, journalists and activists detained in relation to the peaceful protest held in Baku on Saturday 26 January 2013.

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