2014: Year of intense government repression in Azerbaijan

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Current political prisoner Khadija Ismayilova stops the car which takes rights defender Intigam Aliyev from court to the detention facility on 8 August. (Photo: Musavat.com)

After 12 months of paralysing attacks on civil society, many prominent critics of Azerbaijani government to enter New Year in prison. See what happened this year in Azerbaijan:

13 January – Advisor of opposite Musavat Party chairman Yadigar Sadigov sentenced to 6-year imprisonment

3 February – President Ilham Aliyev approved amendments to the laws “On the non-governmental organizations (public associations and foundations)” and “On Grants” that made activity of independent NGOs impossible.

17 March – Chairman of Republican Alternative movement Ilgar Mammadov sentenced to 7-year imprisonment and advisor of chairman of opposite Musavat Party member Tofig Yagublu to 5-year imprisonment.

10 April – The Azerbaijani government has refused to renew a major Peace Corps’ program focusing on youth development sector in the country

21 April – Journalist Rauf Mirkadirov deported, arrested and charged with high treason.

6 May – 8 pro-democracy members of NIDA Civic Movement sentenced 6-8 years in jail for exercising their right of freedom of assembly:

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15 May – Journalist Parviz Hashimli was sentenced to eight years in prison.

26 May –  2014 the Court on Grave Crimes has sentenced the two Azerbaijan human rights defenders Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli to respectively 5 years and 6 months imprisonment and 3 years and 6 months.

27 May – Activist Abdul Abilov sentenced 5 years and 6 months in jail for managing critical Facebook page.

30 May – Independent “Ayna”, “Zerkalo” newspapers suspended publication.

2 July – Baku office of National Democratic Institute(NDI) was offically closed.

4 July – 18 years old activist Omar Mammadov was sentenced 5 years in jail for managing critical Facebook page.

17-25 July – Opposite Musavat Party members Siraj and Faraj Karimli brothers arrested.

30 July-5 August – Leading rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus were arrested. Office of “Peace and Democracy Institute” sealed off.

2 August – Prominent rights activist Rasul Jafarov was arrested.

8 August – Respected human rights defender Intigam Aliyev was arrested. Office of “Legal Education Society” sealed off.

8 August – Well known journalist Emin Huseynov was forced to hide till now. Office of “Reporters’ Freedom and Safety” sealed off.

21 August – Independent Azerbaijani journalist, Ilgar Nasibov, and his family continue receiving threats after he was brutally attacked by unidentified people.

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29 August – Opposition journalist Seymur Hazi was arrested.

8 October –  IREX ceased its operations in Azerbaijan.

5 December – Well-known investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was arrested for investigating ruling family’s illegal properties and bussiness in offshore zones.

9 December – Independent online channel Meydan TV suspended its activity in Baku.

26 December – RFE/RL Baku Bureau (AzadliqRadiosu) raided, materials seized, office sealed off, some employees forcibly taken to Prosecutor’s office.

Updated: International reactions to Khadija Ismayilova’s arrest

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09.12.2014

UK Minister of State for Europe, David Lidington, blogs on freedom of expression and the media overseas, emphasizes arrest of Khadija Ismayilova:
“Last month I travelled to Azerbaijan, where freedom of expression and the media continues to be threatened. Only last Friday another journalist was arrested and sentenced to pre-trial detention. Khadija Ismailova’s case continues a spell of systematic targeting of journalists often ending in prison sentences being handed out to free speech advocates. But Azerbaijan is far from alone in eroding the freedom of independent media. In fact, apart from the Baltic States, no post-Soviet country is considered by Freedom House’s 2014 annual report to have a free media, and only North Korea fares worse than Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.”
Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden urged Azerbaijani government to meet OSCE and CoE commitments on her Twitter page:

Protest rally for arrested journalist Khadija Ismaylova in Tbilisi on December 10: (video by OCCRP Caucasus’ Nino Bakhradze)
Solidarity action in front of Azerbaijani Embassy in Bucharest on December 10, slogan was “Free Khadija”:

 

Statement by the EU  External Action Spokesperson on the arrest of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova:

“The arrest of investigative journalist Ms Khadija Ismayilova by the Azerbaijan authorities last Friday, and her commitment to pre-trial detention on a charge of ‘incitement to suicide’, is a step against the freedom of expression, key to any democratic society.

Azerbaijan needs to stand fully by its international commitments, as a member of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, to ensure the freedom of the press. The EU will closely follow developments in Ms Ismayilova’s case.”

Nils Muiznieks, Commissioner for Human Rights, an independent, non-judicial institution of the Council of Europe strongly condemns Khadija Ismayilova’s arrest and detention:

“The arrest of Khadija Ismayilova, prominent journalist in Azerbaijan and long-standing partner of my Office, confirms my concerns about the reprisals that human rights defenders and other activists who co-operate with the Council of Europe face in the country.

I strongly condemn her arrest and detention and see it as yet another instance of the selective use of criminal provisions against those expressing critical views in the country.

I last met Khadija in October when I was in Baku and could observe her determination and positive input in defending the rights of those recently detained and many other activists under pressure. Just a few hours before her arrest she had contacted my Office to raise the case of a fellow journalist.

It is high time that the Azerbaijani authorities put an end to this crackdown on human rights and free all those put behind bars because of the opinions they have expressed.” Nils Muiznieks wrote on his Facebook page.

Secretary General Jagland calls for immediate release of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova:

“I am concerned that a Baku court ordered the two-month pre-trial detention of prominent Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Her arrest was unnecessary. It sends a very negative message to the civil society in Azerbaijan and to the international community. It once again puts pressure on journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan and fundamentally contradicts the commitments Azerbaijan undertook when it became a member state of the Council of Europe. I call for the immediate release of Khadija Ismayilova and of the many other Azerbaijani partners of the Council of Europe currently deprived of their liberty,” said Thorbjorn Jagland.

Colleagues, friends protested for imprisoned journalist Khadija Ismayil in front of Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, DC on December 8, 2014

 

U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Deeply Concerned By Arrest And Detention Of Journalist Khadija Ismayilova:

“I am deeply concerned about the detention of Ms. Ismayilova, who has been the target of unrelenting persecution by the government of Azerbaijan because of her efforts to expose corruption within the country, as well as her advocacy on behalf of political prisoners. The current charges against her are bizarre and only seem designed to silence one of the few independent voices left in Azerbaijan.

Ms. Ismayilova was scheduled to testify in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on November 19, 2014, but was prevented from attending due to a government-imposed travel ban related to a different legal case. The current charge levied against Ms. Ismayilova of ‘incitement to suicide’ is just an escalation of the years of harassment by the authorities that she has endured.

As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Azerbaijan has committed to respecting human rights – including freedom of the media – and the U.S. Helsinki Commission once again calls on the government of Azerbaijan to live up to its promises and immediately end its harassment of all journalists, including Ms. Ismayilova.” said Senator Ben Cardin.

Solidarity action in front of Azerbaijani Embassy in Moldova for release of Khadija Ismayilova:

 

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) today has called on the Azerbaijan authorities to immediately release the prominent investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, following the order of a two-month preventative detention.

“This is an absurd charge against Ismayilova by the authorities to silence critical voices in Azerbaijan. It is clearly an another attempt by the government to intimidate journalists like Ismayilova who dare to report the truth and spoke out against the authorities in the country.” said Ricardo Gutiérrez, the EFJ General Secretary.

Investigative Report Preject Italy calls for immediate release of Azeri reporter:

“The decision to hold Khadija in detention was instantly met with outcry from journalists, media organizations, and press freedom activists around the world. Her supporters have been urging people to write to their local Azeri embassy, and to the Azeri prosecutor and government to demand Khadija’s release, and condemn the continued harassment she has suffered in the course of her important investiagtive work. We’d encourage you to do the same.”

Nenad Pejic, the editor in chief of RFE/RL, condemned Ismayilova’s treatment.

“The arrest and detention of Khadija Ismayilova is the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan,” Pejic said. “The charges brought against her today are outrageous. Khadija is being punished for her journalism.”

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović condemned the arrest of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismailova.

“The arrest of Ismailova is nothing but orchestrated intimidation, which is a part of the ongoing campaign aimed at silencing her free and critical voice. I repeat my call on the authorities in Azerbaijan to stop this practice, which is detrimental to media freedom,” Mijatović said.

PACE President Anne Brasseur expressed her serious concern abut arrest of investigative journalist.

“Khadija Ismayilova is one the long-standing partners of the Council of Europe. I met her in my office in Strasbourg during the Assembly’s last part session and I was shocked by the information she provided to me regarding pressure and intimidation exercised against her, as well as other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. Taking into account the recent arrests of prominent human rights defenders – many of whom are valuable partners of the Council of Europe – I have to express my deep concern at her arrest.

As a member state of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan must respect the standards of the ECHR. Therefore, I urge the competent authorities of Azerbaijan to ensure that the standards of the Convention are respected in any judicial and legal proceedings against Ms Ismayilova as well as against other human rights activists”, declared PACE President.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors condemned the arrest and detention in Baku of prominent Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova and called for her speedy release.

“Khadija’s arrest is just another attempt by the Azeri government to silence its critics and restrict press freedom in Azerbaijan,” said Chairman Jeff Shell. “We are outraged at her treatment, and we call on the government of Azerbaijan to release her immediately.”

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said that Ms. Ismayilova’s arrest appeared to be part of a broader crackdown.

“Broadly speaking, we are deeply troubled by restrictions on civil society activities, including on journalists in Azerbaijan, and are increasingly concerned that the government there is not living up to its international commitments and obligations,” Ms. Harf said.

Amnesty International named this arrest “blatant attempt to gag free media”.

“This move has all the hallmarks of another blatant attempt to gag free media in Azerbaijan – Khadija Ismayilova is one of the last remaining independent voices in the country,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“Today’s detention order comes hot on the heels of a long series of attempts to silence her. The Azerbaijan authorities must stop this harassment of journalists just for doing their jobs.”

OCCRP editor Drew Sullivan said: “This looks and feels like an escalation of the harrassment Khadija has been facing by the government for reporting news relevant to the people of Azerbaijan. I encourage the government to tolerate investigative reporting and release Khadija and the others facing unfair detention.”

Human Rights Watch named this arrest “devastating blow to critical voices in Azerbaijan”.

“Khadija Ismayilova is an inconvenient messenger, and her arrest fits squarely among the Azerbaijani government’s concerted efforts to silence dissenting voices,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch. “She should be released immediately.”

Freedom House called authorities of Azerbaijan to drop the charges and allowed to return to her work.

“Khadija Ismailova has long been a thorn in the side of the Azerbaijani government for her fearless reporting on the corruption of President Aliyev and his family,” said Robert Herman, vice president for regional programs. “Indicting her on the bizarre charge of ‘inciting attempted suicide’ shows that the government is determined to eradicate free speech and independent civil society in Azerbaijan at any cost. All charges should be dropped and Ismailova should be allowed to return to her work.”

Human Rights House Foundation called international community, especially the Council of Europe to get a foot in the door to stop the repression in Azerbaijan.

“This sentence does not come as a surprise: we assumed the authorities wanted to silence Khadija Ismayilova,” says Maria Dahle, Executive Director of the Human Rights House Foundation. “The arrest has a chilling effect: one must now consider that every independent civil society leader in Azerbaijan is a target and can be arrested at any given time for any charge, as ludicrous as one can imagine. The international community, especially the Council of Europe, must now get a foot in the door to stop the repression, including by stopping further cooperation with Azerbaijan’s authorities” she added.

Index on Censorship demanded the immediate and unconditional release of journalists and human rights defenders in detention.

“The arrest of Khadija Ismayilova is part of Azerbaijan’s continued crackdown on free media and civil society. This confirms the pattern of intimidation and harassment perpetrated by authorities in an attempt to silence critical voices,” Melody Patry, senior advocacy officer at Index on Censorship, said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ruling and calls on authorities in Azerbaijan to stop their prosecution of Ismayilova, who also faces charges of libel in a separate case.

“We call on Azerbaijani authorities to stop gagging reporters through trumped-up charges and arrests, and immediately release Khadija Ismayilova,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia research associate. “The politicized nature of the arrest is obvious–an award-winning reporter is being harassed for her work in Azerbaijan.”

Robert Hårdh, Executive Director at Civil Rights Defenders”We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Khadija Ismayilova and other journalists and free speech advocates. Ismayilova’s work as a journalist, where she has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, is the obvious cause for the arrest”.

The IWMF is gravely concerned about the detention of investigative journalist and 2012 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award winner Khadija Ismayilova, and is calling on the authorities of Azerbaijan to release her immediately.”

‘The IWMF has no doubt that the charges brought against Khadija Ismayilova are a concerted attempt to silence her and stop her from investigating corruption, malfeasance in the country’s government, and the unethical business dealings of Azerbaijani President’s family”, said Elisa Lees Muñoz, Executive Director of the IWMF. “We call on the authorities of Azerbaijan to respect the principles of press freedom, and immediately release Ismayilova from prison.”

Civic Solidarity Platform called on the Council of Europe to suspend Azerbaijan’s membership until the authorities of the country drop all charges and unconditionally release NGO representatives, lawyers, journalists and political opponents who are currently in detention or prison for their legitimate professional activities, including Khadija Ismayilova, Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev, Anar Mammadli, Ilgar Mammadov and others.

 

 

“IF I GET ARRESTED”, Khadija Ismayil’s appeal to international community

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February 19, 2014

Things get more complicated here. So there are couple things I want to ask for:

To international Human Rights activists:

You are doing everything right. Keep doing it.

To democratic countries, diplomats, international organizations:

Just in case, I want to remind my request to international community in terms of possible advocacy actions regarding my possible arrest:

Some of you want to help, but can do it only with private diplomacy.

Thank you, but No.

WHEN MY CASE IS CONCERNED,  if you can, please support by standing for freedom of speech and freedom of privacy in this country as loudly as possible. Otherwise, I rather prefer you not to act at all.

I don’t want any private diplomacy for my case. I don’t believe in human rights advocacy behind closed doors. People of my country need to know that human rights are supported.

I also don’t want any release-appreciation trade for my release. My possible arrest will be just one of the more than hundred politically motivated arrest and government of Azerbaijan has managed to use revolving doors of prisons for getting positive feedback from the West: releasing one prisoner, getting praised, arresting two.

To fellow international journalists:

IF/WHEN I get arrested, I want you to make sure that your audience understand the reasons. Anti-corruption investigations are the reason of my arrest. The government is not comfortable with what I am doing. I am about to finish three investigations. I will make sure to finish them before anything happens, if not my editors and colleagues will finish and publish.

İnvestigations I am working on are on the same topic:

Selected reports and investigations:

Latest report (in Azeri) is about Czech company of Arzu Aliyeva, president’s daughter. The company is sold to tax minister’s advisor. Law bans officials from owning businesses and it is not clear where the 1,2 millions EUROSare taken?

2012 President awarded family stake in gold fields

Lucrative gold mining contract signed in 2007 with unknown companies is about to bring millions to it’s secret owners. Khadija Ismayilova and Nushaba Fatullayeva discover familiar names hidden behind offshore companies. Azerbaijani President’s daughters are among beneficiaries.

2012 President’s family has a stake in Eurovision concert hall

Azerbaijan spends hundreds of millions to host Eurovision contest, with more than a hundred millions of public funds invested into the concert hall. Khadija Ismayilova’s investigation traces one of the subcontractors, involved to the expensive project and finds a link to the president’s family. The same company is involved into construction of state funded “patriot” project in 2010– the highest flagpole in the world (which became second highest after Tajikistan beat the record few months later) and shady privatization of energy construction facilities.

2011 Tracking the President’s family business

For more than five years government of Azerbaijan lied to citizens about ownership of the mobile phone operator, naming German Siemens as an owner of Azerfon company, enjoying favorable conditions in the market, not available for competitors. The investigation reveals that president Aliyev’s daughters were behind Azerfon through shell companies in Panama.

2010 President Aliyev’s family and the illegal privatization of the public airport

The investigation conducted with Ulviyya Asadzade documented how President IlhamAliyev’s family was involved in the illegal privatization of the public bank and other parts of state owned Azerbaijan Airlines company, to benefit the Aliyev family. The government never publicly announced the privatization. The report was declared “the best investigation of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty in 2010” among the 28 language services of the radio.

Who is next in Azerbaijan?

It’s not excluded that crackdown against civil society will continue in Azerbaijan with new arrests. The question is “Who is next?”. Two critical trials this week:

092900091832Alayif Hasanov – a lawyer of Leyla Yunus and other political prisoners. His trial will be held on 8 October. He may be arrested.

Yasamal District Court of Baku considered a lawsuit by Nuriya Huseynova – cellmate of Leyla Yunus, filed against lawyer Alaif Hasanov on 29 September. Hasanov himself was absent in the court. Hasanov unveiled facts of physical pressure by Huseynova on Yunus in the jail cell, where they are present together. One of his statements was published in the newspaper “Azadlig” September 17, 2014. Thereafter, Huseynov said that the lawyer called her “a criminal”, calling it an insult. Hasanov said that Huseynova was previously judged, and her current term in prison has not expired.  The lawyer believes that the authorities use Huseynova, to remove him from the protection of Yunus.  The lawyer pointed out that a copy of the article in “Azadlig” newspaper was attached to the suit. “It turns out that Huseynova is a regular reader of “Azadlig”, and gets it even in jail, while lawyers bags are carefully checked , so that to prevent getting  the newspaper “Azadlig” to jail.

“I’m not guilty, but my detainment is real.”

10665830_10203652814979384_7153706528451201757_nKhadija Ismayilova – an investigative journalist. Her trial will be held on 9 October. She may be arrested.

Khadija Ismayilova, who is known for her extensive reporting on the business interests of the family of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and who hosts a daily program for RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, said a criminal libel case has been opened against her and she has been ordered to appear in court on October 3.

“I have been warned that, upon returning from my trip, I will be facing arrest and maybe this is another way to warn me,” she told RFE/RL in a telephone interview. “I believe they want me either not to go back to Azerbaijan or to be scared and not be loud about things in Azerbaijan. They have to understand that this is not the way to deal with me.”

(Will be updated)

Prominent journalist arrested in Azerbaijan

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Prominent critical journalist, board member of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party was arrested in Azerbaijan.

Seymur Hezi was detained in August 29 on suspicion of hooliganism.

Absheron Court ordered Hezi held for two months while the investigation into charges against him is conducted.

Azerbaijani independent journalist deadly beaten

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An Azerbaijani independent journalist, NGO leader and rights activist has been badly beaten by unknown assailants in the country’s Naxcivan exclave.

Ilgar Nasibov was attacked late on August 21 while he was in the office of the Naxcivan Resource Center, the only independent rights organization operating in the province.

Nasibov, who was found unconscious, suffered severe head trauma, a broken nose, fractured ribs, and serious blood loss.

A photograph of Nasibov after the attack shows his eyes swollen shut from the beating.

International rights groups have been complaining about a crackdown by Azerbaijani authorities on rights activists.

Four of the leading activists in the country have been detained and charged with serious crimes in recent weeks.

Photos: Meydan TV
Article: RFE/RL