Updated: International reactions to Khadija Ismayilova’s arrest



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.




Nils Muiznieks: “All of my partners in Azerbaijan are in jail.”

nils-muiznieks_1Comissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Nils Muiznieks posted this on his Facebook page:

I recently returned from one of the most difficult missions of my two-and-a-half year tenure as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. In late October I was in Azerbaijan, the oil-rich country in the South Caucasus, which just finished holding the rotating chairmanship of the 47-member Council of Europe. Most countries chairing the organisation, which prides itself as the continent’s guardian of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, use their time at the helm to tout their democratic credentials. Azerbaijan will go down in history as the country that carried out an unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders during its chairmanship.

All of my partners in Azerbaijan are in jail. It was heart-wrenching to visit Leyla Yunus in pre-trial detention outside of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Head of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, Leyla is Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights activist and one of three finalists for this year’s prestigious Sakharov award, granted by the European Parliament. I do not know whether it was due to her cataracts or her emotional distress, but she cried throughout our half-hour meeting. The 58-year old also has diabetes, Hepatitis C, and kidney problems. She was in particular anguish for not having had the chance to see Arif, her husband of 26 years, for more than three months. He is also in pre-trial detention, despite having had a stroke just prior to his arrest.

The Yunus couple are among the brave activists in the region that have sought to promote dialogue with their counterparts in Armenia, a country with which Azerbaijan has been at war for the last 25 years over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which was violently wrested from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed. Arif and Leyla Yunus have both been charged with the crime of treason. Leyla regularly compiled lists of the country’s political prisoners for submission to international organisations. On October 24, the day I left Azerbaijan, a Baku court prolonged Leyla’s pre-trial detention for another four months.

Another difficult meeting was with Intigam Aliyev, one of Azerbaijan’s most renowned human rights lawyers, who is also in pre-trial detention for allegedly violating the restrictive provisions which make human rights work virtually impossible in the country. Until his arrest three months ago, Intigam was the coordinator of the Council of Europe’s legal training programme in the country. He was also legal counsel for dozens of cases against Azerbaijan before the European Court of Human Rights. When the authorities seized all of his documents, including the case files, he said he felt like the rug had been pulled from under his feet. He did not know how he could continue pushing the cases at the European Court or how he could defend himself. Again, the day I left Azerbaijan, his pre-trial detention was prolonged for another three months. When the judge announced his decision, Intigam nearly fainted.

I had a more upbeat meeting with Anar Mammadli, winner of this year’s Vaclav Havel prize, granted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Anar has already been convicted to a five–and-a-half year prison sentence for violating the country’s cumbersome NGO laws (the formal charges were tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of authority). Anar was appealing his conviction and was in good spirits, despite the scant chances of success of his appeal. As one of the country’s most professional organisers of election monitoring, Anar had been harshly critical of several previous ballots in the country. Anar spends most of his time exercising and reading books on political science, philosophy and history. He wanted to know how from prison he could provide input to the Council of Europe’s efforts to assist Azerbaijan improve the legal framework for NGOs.

I also left heartened by a meeting with Rasul Jafarov, the head of an NGO called the Human Rights Club. Though he had had his pre-trial detention extended for another three months the day before I met him, Rasul was in good spirits. Rasul made a name for himself by organising a campaign called “Sing for Democracy” in the run-up to the holding of the Eurovision Song contest, which Azerbaijan hosted in 2012. He had planned to organise a new campaign called “Sports for Democracy” in the run-up to the holding of the European Games in Azerbaijan in 2015. Though he is charged with violations of the NGO law, as we bid farewell to each other, he related his plans to organise a human rights NGO among detainees.

While most of my partners are in detention, others discontinued their human rights work, left the country over the summer, or went into hiding as the crackdown spread. I visited one of the activists in hiding, Emin Huseynov, head of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, an NGO defending journalists in Azerbaijan’s restrictive media context. Though Emin is only 35 years old, he has very high blood pressure and an old spinal injury caused by an encounter with Azerbaijani police batons at an “unauthorised” demonstration a few years ago. Doctors who have examined him say he will not survive an Azerbaijani prison.

These are just some of the activists and journalists languishing in prison or under pressure in Azerbaijan. They are core partners for the Council of Europe – they have all attended roundtables for human rights defenders organised by my Office or participated in events organised by the Parliamentary Assembly. The Council of Europe’s primary friends and partners in the country have almost all been targeted. While this pains me deeply, it also makes practical cooperation between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe extremely difficult. The reprisals must stop. Now.

Azerbaijani Political Prisoners received Sakharov Freedom Award


The Norwegian Helsinki Committee awarded The Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award in 2014 to Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan. On 13 November Azerbaijani civil society representatives, family members of Political Prisoners received the award at ceremony in Oslo.

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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)

Open letter to PACE President from Azerbaijani civil society

Azerbaijan’s civil society open letter to PACE President Anne Brasseur Silence is not an option First Anar Mammadli, then Leyla Yunus, now Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev – and perhaps next, Emin Huseynov: one after another, prominent human rights defenders are sacrificing their freedom for promoting Council of Europe core values in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe has coincided with its increasingly ruthless campaign of repression against human rights defenders. The stakes are high on all fronts: the Council faces an unprecedented threat to its credibility, while Azerbaijan’s political prisoners continue to suffer for exercising their basic rights. The disparity between the values pledged in Strasbourg and the brutal repression enacted at home has never been bleaker. The Council appears trapped between its commitment to human rights and its “better in than out” approach to those states which continually flout the basic principles of membership. The question now is whether Strasbourg is even in a position to protect the fundamental rights and well-being of the Azerbaijani people from the increasingly authoritarian government. There is available procedural recourse. If a state seriously violates Council of Europe standards, the Assembly has the power to suspend national delegations, or deprive them of their voting rights – a sanction it has used on several occasions. In the worst cases, it can recommend that a state be expelled from the Council of Europe. However, it appears that the Council has chosen
silence as the best option.

At a time where courageous Azerbaijani human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and bloggers are either languishing behind bars or living under threat of immediate arrest – for exercising their right to freedom of expression – it is quite simply unacceptable for you as President of the Parliamentary Assembly to remain silent. It is your moral and institutional duty to call for sanctions as set out in the Parliamentary Assembly Rules of Procedure and the Council’s statutes. When in Baku, go and meet with those behind bars— those men and women who have sacrificed their freedom for promotion of the Council’s values. President Aliyev will tell you these people are criminals, and that Azerbaijan is a country where the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are fully guaranteed. He will tell you there is a “constructive dialogue” with civil society. Probably, he will invite you and other members of the Assembly to participate in a “roundtable”. We urge you not accept the invitation unless the roundtable is organized in Kurdakhany, a pre-trial detention facility, which is currently home to many journalists, bloggers, activists and human rights defenders.

Will you tell President Aliyev that Azerbaijan should relinquish this key leadership role in the Council of Europe, an organisation that claims to be central in the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe?

Will you consider challenging the credentials of Azerbaijani delegation on substantial grounds under Rule 8 of the Assembly Rules of Procedures unless the regime guarantees the immediate and unconditional release of those who have been imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression?

Silence is not an option.

The institutional credibility of the Council of Europe is on the line.

How to support Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov and Intiqam Aliyev for Sakharov Prize 2014?


Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe, and therefore bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. In May 2014, Azerbaijan assumed the chairmanship of the organization. However, despite this, the Azerbaijani authorities have recently unleashed an unprecedented wave of repression, targeting opposition politicians, journalists, civil society representatives, and human rights defenders.

Today, human rights activists such as Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov and Intiqam Aliyev stand for the many who are defending basic human rights and European values in Azerbaijan and who are subject to repression and imprisonment for doing so.

By awarding them the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2014 the European Parliament would send a strong signal to a region vital to Europe, at a moment when courageous human rights defenders are needed more than ever.

How the Sakharov Prize 2014 is awarded?

In the next 10 days, the nominations of the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights will be decided by the European Parliament. The prize is awarded to “honour exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.”

Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Reporters without Borders and Anatoli Marchenko. If you believe that Azerbaijani human rights defenders – who are now in jail following years of work on behalf of the rights of others, and most recently on a list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan (on which they are now included) – then let the MEPs who vote on this know.

Nominations for the Sakharov Prize can be made by:
-Political groups in the European Parliament.
-At least 40 MEPs.

The deadline for nominations is Monday 18 September at 12:00 in Strasbourg.

How to support these three?

Gerald Knaus from European Stability Initiative (ESI) writes, “This is hard work, lots of letters and emails and phone calls and meetings yet to be held. And arguments to make why Azerbaijani human rights defenders today deserve this more than other very worthy causes. But it can be done and they deserve it! Anyone who wants to send personal emails explaining why this would be a good idea please do so: MEPs need to get a sense that this is important, crucial even, at this very moment. Each email should ask whether the MEP is willing to support these three for the prize (as a group, representing the courageous human rights community in the country now under siege). If any MEP writes back and say yes, please let us know: g.knaus@esiweb.org.”

Please don’t forget to mention ongoing crackdown and repressions againist civil society in Azerbaijan.

Click to contact your MEP.

Letter from international NGO’s to COE about ongoing crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan


Dear Secretary General Jagland,

We write to express our grave concern over the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders in Azerbaijan and to urge a robust Council of Europe response. This month’s arrest and detention of Intigam Aliyev, a renowned human rights lawyer, is only the latest in a series of politically motivated arrests of members of Azerbaijani civil society. We urge you to condemn this campaign of intimidation and publicly call for the immediate release of those arbitrarily imprisoned. These arrests are targeting individuals who have provided the Council of Europe with valuable information about the human rights situation inside Azerbaijan over the past several years. 1In May 2014, as part of a series of quarterly civil society briefings convened by the Open Society Justice Initiative, Mr. Aliyev updated members of the Committee of Ministers on the government’s failure to satisfactorily implement the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) judgment in Namat Aliyev v. Azerbaijan, a case that he litigated in which the Court held that Azerbaijani electoral commissions and courts failed to address election irregularities resulting in violations of the applicant’s right to stand for election under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention. One month later, when President Aliyev addressed the Parliamentary Assembly in June, Mr. Aliyev – along with human rights defenders Rasul Jafarov and Emin Huseynov – organized a side event in Strasbourg to highlight Azerbaijan’s troubling human rights record, including the President’s approval of strict registration requirements for NGOs operating in the country, as well as heavy penalties for non-compliance.  Since that time Mr. Jafarov, who chairs the non-governmental organization Human Rights Club, and Mr. Aliyev have been arrested (on August 2 and 8, respectively) and charged with the offenses of tax evasion (Art. 213 of Azerbaijan’s criminal code), “illegal entrepreneurship,” (Art. 192) and abuse of authority (Art. 308.2). That same week, Mr. Huseynov, who directs the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, was issued a travel ban, which prevents him from leaving Baku; in addition, his office was raided and forcibly shuttered. And on July 30, Leyla Yunus, founding director of the Peace and Democracy Institute in Baku and a prominent human rights activist, was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention, on charges of state treason, fraud, forgery, and tax evasion. On August 5, her husband Arif Yunus was arrested and detained on similar charges as well. Amnesty International considers Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus to be prisoners of conscience imprisoned solely for their human rights work. Within the space of a few weeks, the leaders of some of Azerbaijan’s most active, independent NGOs are now in prison. Such repression is not new: Azerbaijan has a long history of intimidating civil society through the use of criminal suits. This systematic targeting is a flagrant violation of the guarantees in the European Convention on Human Rights, and the fact that it is occurring during Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers is a perversion of the Council of Europe’s values. Rather than use the opportunity of their chairmanship to “demonstrate their will to improve the country’s human rights record,” in your words, the Azerbaijan government and its authorities have done the opposite. You recently announced that a previous joint Committee between the Presidential Administration and representatives of civil society might be reconvened; however, this proposal is neither credible nor practical. The inability of key human rights defenders to participate while in detention would imperil the Committee’s credibility “to go through the charges brought against the human rights defenders,” and its ability to meaningfully “re-launch dialogue” between government authorities and civil society. To that end, we urge you to:   
Publicly condemn the arrests of detained human rights defenders and call for their immediate and unconditional release, and the lifting of the travel ban on Mr. Huseynov. To date, the government has presented no information to suggest that pre-trial detention is warranted or that any credible evidence supports the charges. The fragile health of Mr. and Mrs. Yunus in particular is a further cause for concern and compels their release.
Call upon the Committee of Ministers to debate the situation and pass a resolution condemning the recent arrests. At the earliest possible date, the situation in Azerbaijan should be placed on the provisional agenda of the Committee’s next session. The agenda should include a draft resolution calling upon the government to end the harassment of human rights defenders and journalists, and to comply with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Pursuant to Article 34 of the Convention, the Committee should take particular note of reports that Intigam Aliyev’s ECtHR case files have been seized by Azerbaijani authorities, which amounts to a direct interference with the right of individual petition of his clients.
Call upon the Parliamentary Assembly and other Council of Europe Member States to urge the Azerbaijani government to release those imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Individual member states, as well as the Council of Europe leadership, should condemn the government’s campaign of politically motivated arrests and insist upon the release of those currently imprisoned under sham charges. These detained individuals risked their freedom to provide the Council of Europe with important information about Azerbaijan, resulting in harmful government reprisals. The Council owes them its full public support. 

Very truly yours,

James A. Goldston
Founding Executive Director, Open Society Justice Initiative

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Sternford Moyo
Co-Chairs, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

Dr. Denis Krivosheev
Regional Deputy Programme Director, Europe and Central Asia, Amnesty International

Philip Leach
Director, European Human Rights Advocacy Centre 

Peter Noorlander
Chief Executive, Media Legal Defence Initiative

Hugh Williamson
Director, Europe and Central Asia, Human Rights Watch

August 28, 2014