End suppression of civil society in Azerbaijan

As the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe by Azerbaijan takes an end, 46 NGOs from 10 Human Rights Houses call upon authorities in Azerbaijan to put an end to the unprecedented repression against civil society and to immediately and unconditionally release all civil society actors currently detained due to their engagement for human rights and for raising critics against Azerbaijan’s authorities.

Leyla Yunus, and her husband, Arif Yunus, were arrested respectively on 30 July and 5 August 2014. On 6 November 2014, the lawyer of Leyla Yunus, Alaif Hasanov, was sentenced to 240 hours of community service due to his public statements about the detention conditions of his client. Leyla Yunus has indeed faced psychological and physical abuses in detention, from detainees and from prison officials.

In their joint letter of 11 November 2014to President Ilham Aliyev, the NGOs call upon the authorities to put an end to the unprecedented  repression against civil society.

Due to the risk of retaliation against any NGO signing critical statements at this time in Azerbaijan, for the first time since the Human Rights House Network (HRHN) works on Azerbaijan, it has decided not to publish the list of NGOs from Azerbaijan involved in preparing the joint letter and endorsing it.

This summer, one after the other, the main leaders of civil society were arrested. Many others decided to flee the country, facing court hearings, of which the outcome is well known in advance. Few others are also hiding in the country.

“This wave of repression is planned,” said Maria Dahle, Executive Director of the Human Rights House Foundation. “Charges of hooliganism, which used to be heldagainst journalists in 2009, now became economic and severe criminal charges. In addition, legislation has evolved in such a way that human rights defenders can at any given time be criminalised for their activities.”

In their joint letter, the NGOs indeed highlight how repression of civil society in the country is a systemic problem remaining unaddressed.

The rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe, which Azerbaijan has assumed for six months, is thought as the occasion given to each one of the Council’s 47 members to act as a role model in the implementation of European human rights law. It is a unique chance to prove a country’s commitment to the very spirit of the Council of Europe, its “devotion to the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of [Europe’s] peoples and the true source of individual freedom,political liberty and the rule of law, principles which form the basis of all genuine democracy” as stated in the Statute of the Council of Europe of 5 May 1949, to which Azerbaijan adhered. Instead, during the chairmanship of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan led an unprecedented repression against civil society.

“Instead, reprisal against human rights defenders and journalists from Azerbaijan cooperating with the Council of Europe is a repeated reality, which we document in our letter,” added Maria Dahle.

Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli, were sentenced to respectively 5 years and 6 months and 3 years and 6 months imprisonment. Their detention is solely due to their monitoring of elections in the country, including the latest Presidential election of 9 October 2013.The detention of Intigam Aliyev is a grave sign of non-cooperation with the European Court of Human Rights, in addition to the lack of implementation of various judgements, including the recent one on Ilgar Mammadov. Intigam Aliyev is aprominent human rights lawyer engaged in the defense of human rights by providing legal defense, initiating strategic litigation, and training lawyers and providing human rights education. The work of Intigam Aliyev is essential in the promotion of human rights and democracy-building in Azerbaijan. He strives for legal protection of victims of human rights violations for more than 15 years and has to date represented them in proceedings before the Court in more than 200 cases (around 40 cases are currently awaiting decision). He has succeeded in a number of cases concerning voting rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial and has served as an trainer in nearly 100 training courses for judges, lawyers, journalists, and representatives of non-governmental organisations. The Committee of Ministers recently requested “detailed information on all criminal charges pending against [Intigam Aliyev],” which is indeed a sign of its dismay over this detention.

HRHN letter of concern to President Ilham Aliyev (11 November 2014)

46 NGOs from 10 Human Rights Houses call upon Azerbaijan to stop the on going suppression of civil society, as Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe ends. The NGOs further call for the immediately and unconditionally release all civil society actors currently detained due to their engagement for human rights and for raising critics against Azerbaijan’s authorities, including and especially human rights defenders Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, and Intigam Aliyev. Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli must also be released.

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