Politically motivated detentions must stop in Azerbaijan

Since the sentencing in May 2014 of Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli, as well as of eight activists of the youth opposition movement NIDA, the authorities in Azerbaijan have not stopped harassing and sentencing those who stand up for human rights or exercise their right to free expression.

On Friday, 4 July 2014, Ömar Mammadov was sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of drug possession with the aim of selling it. The young man was firstly accused of possession of narcotics for his own consumption. When arrested on 21 January 2014, he supposedly was found with 6 grams of heroin on him. During the investigation, an official state agency confirmed that he was not a user, however recommending he should follow medical treatment. The investigation hence changed its charges and accused him of wanting to sell the heroin, based on investigations ahead of his arrest. The problem however is that he only came back from months of studies abroad on 20 January, a few hours before his arrest, as he stated in his final words in court on 4 July. Member of the NIDA movement, Ömar Mammadov was in fact the administrator of a Facebook page critical with the government.

“This case is an illustration of the way authorities fabricate charges against disturbing voices,” HRHF’s Head of Advocacy and Geneva Office Florian Irminger said following a week in Baku, specifically spent on meeting families and lawyers of political prisoners. Along with Freedom Now and the coordinator of the Working Group on political prisoners in Belarus, Volodymyr Yavorskyy, HRHF indeed organised a mission on political prisoners in Azerbaijan early July 2014. The group also attended the final hearing in the case of Ömar Mammadov and the delivery of the judgement.


Political prisoners, a sad reality in Azerbaijan

Asked about the situation in this regard at the June session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), President Ilham Aliyev answered “there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan” and added “Azerbaijan is a member of the European Court of Human Rights. All issues relating to prisoners can be addressed there. We respect the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Therefore, once again, the attempts to attack our country are absolutely groundless. They will have no result.”

In contrary, as stated by Freedom Now’s Executive Director Maran Turner in an interview with Radio Free Europe in Azerbaijan, “unfortunately, arbitrary arrests and prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan is a key issue in the field of human rights in the country.” Human Rights Watch shared updated information with members of PACE ahead of the session in regard to political prisoners (avaiable here).

“Azerbaijan has a revolving ‘door policy’ when it comes to political prisoners, arresting a few and releasing others again and again”, said Florian Irminger in the same Radio Free Europe interview. Amongst those punished for their work are Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli, NIDA activists, as well as journalists such as Rauf Mirkadirov or Hilal Mammadov. Others are punished because of their wish to participate to the public life, such as political activists Ilgar Mammadov and Tofiq Yaqublu.

These are emblematic cases of political prisoners, whether human rights defenders, activists or journalists. In Azerbaijan, their imprisonment goes along with the legal threats against those defending them.


Harassment of lawyers and human rights defenders

Lawyers are indeed working in a more and more dire situation. For years now, they have been intimidated in their work when taking up politically motivated cases, including by being excluded from the Bar Association. “During the mission in Baku, we also learned that the mandatory registration of grants for legal associations are now being refused by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan, just alike other human rights NGOs”, said Florian Irminger.

Harassment against human rights defenders also continues in the country. Right now, the case of Leyla Yunus is emblematic of a harassment strategy aiming at slandering her and her colleagues publicly and delegitimising her work, as members of the Human Rights House Network stated in their letter of 30 April 2014 to the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan.


Azerbaijani media to the mission on political prisoners:

Documents:

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