Azerbaijan: Ongoing judicial harassment against Mr. Rasul Jafarov
AZE 001 / 0115
/ OBS 001.2
Judicial harassment /
February 27, 2015
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights
Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights
(FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new
information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in
The Observatory has been informed about the ongoing
judicial harassment against Mr. Rasul
Jafarov, who actively participated in the “Sing for Democracy” and the
"Art for Democracy” movement ahead of the Eurovision song contest in Baku
in May 2012, and who was planning a campaign called “Sports for Human Rights”
prior to the European Games which will take place in Baku in June 2015. Mr.
Jafarov is also the Head of the “Human Rights Club”, established in December
2010. Despite repeated attempts to register his NGO with the Azerbaijani
government, registration was refused several times by the authorities. Mr.
Jafarov was arrested on August 2, on charges of illegal entrepreneurship
(Article 192 of the Criminal Code), tax evasion (Article 213) and abuse of
office (Article 308). His detention term was extended by three months on
October 23. On December 12, additional charges were brought against him under
Articles 179.3.2 (embezzlement allegedly causing damage to third parties
identified as “victims” by the investigative body) and 313 (service forgery).
If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 12 years’ imprisonment.
On February 24, a hearing was held in the trial
against Mr. Jafarov at the Baku Grave Crimes Court. The hearing was attended by
a trial observer mandated by the Observatory.
During the hearing, Ms. Gunay Ismayilova was
questioned as a witness. She said that she took part in a project implemented
by Mr. Rasul Jafarov in early 2013, that she received the amount stated in her
contract, and that she signed the corresponding receipt. In response to
questions from the defence, she said that Mr. Rasul Jafarov worked in an office
from July to December 2013 for which a contract was signed, and that the rent
was paid to the landlord through her. She added that the contract was signed in
accordance with the legislation, and that documents confirming the receipt of
the rent had always been duly signed.
Earlier during the hearing, the landlord, Mr. Jahangir
Ahmadov, recognised as a “victim” by the investigative body, said that he
indeed rented his apartment to Ms. Gunay Ismailova, adding that he did not know
why he had been recognised as a victim, and that he had never suffered any
material damage from Mr. Rasul Jafarov.
Then, Mr. Nijat Imranli, another person identified as
a victim, presented a written testimony to the court. He said the reason why he
submitted his testimony in writing was that the investigative body had
deliberately distorted his statement, assigning him the victim status although
he had not suffered any damage. Mr. Imranli initially wrote a script for a
documentary, and prepared a report for the Human Rights Club. Such services
were provided in a contract in two copies signed by him and Mr. Jafarov. Mr.
Imranli asserted that he was ready to present the receipt of the amount he
received to the court, and that such a receipt was written and signed by
himself. Mr. Imranli concluded that he was not a victim, and requested that his
name be removed from the victims' list.
Afterwards, witness Azer Gasimov testified, saying
that he had signed a contract, prepared a video clip, received the amount
stated in the contract, and signed a receipt.
Finally, Mr. Elnur Mammadov, the Chairman of
the Volunteers International Cooperation Public Union, was also called to
testify as a witness. He said that one of the projects led by Mr. Rasul Jafarov
was carried out by his organisation, that all the funds were spent for the
purposes envisaged in the project, and that relevant reports were sent to the
donor. In response to a question regarding the office of the Volunteers
International Cooperation Public Union, he said that he indeed signed a rent
contract allowing Mr. Rasul Jafarov to use the office for the concerned project.
The hearing was attended by civil society
representatives, international observers, and representatives of the United
Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands embassies.
The next hearing will be held on March 5, at 10.30 am.
The Observatory notes that during the February-24
hearing, all the persons recognised as “victims” by the investigative body and
who were called to testify eventually called on the court to dismiss their
victims' status, since they had never suffered any material damage from Mr.
Rasul Jafarov. The Observatory hopes that the court will satisfy their demands,
in line with the principles of due process and presumption of innocence.
The Observatory more generally calls upon the Azeri
authorities to release Mr. Jafarov immediately since his detention is arbitrary
as it only aims at sanctioning his human rights activities, and to put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the
judicial level – against him and all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.
On January 15, 2014, a preparatory hearing was held at
the Baku Grave Crimes Court, where Mr. Rasul Jafarov was put in a double iron
cage. Contesting the charges against his client, lawyer Fariz Namazli stated
that in the framework of his human rights activities, Mr. Rasul Jafarov had
always signed grant agreements with donors as a natural person, that his
accounts were used only in the framework of an individual entrepreneurship, and
that he never used any attributes of a legal entity. To that end, Mr. Namazli
requested the exclusion from the case file of an audit on Mr. Jafarov’s
accounts signed by representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of
Taxes and the Council on State Support to NGOs, since these bodies do not have
authority to investigate the activities of an individual.
In addition, at the same hearing, individuals whom the
investigative body recognised as “victims” of alleged embezzlement in the
present case stated they had actually no complaints against Mr. Rasul Jafarov,
and asked the court to release him.
Accordingly, Mr. Namazli filed petitions to terminate
the criminal case against his client, to commute Mr. Jafarov’s measure of
imprisonment into house arrest, to audiotape or videotape all the hearings, to
let the defendant seat beside his lawyers during court sessions, and to include
additional documents in the case file as evidence proving the groundlessness of
the charges. As the Prosecutor asked the judge reject all these petitions, the
court only accepted the petition to include additional elements of the defence
in the case file, and rejected all others claims of the defendant.
On January 27, 2014, the first hearing on merits took
place at the Baku Grave Crimes Court, which was monitored by the Observatory in
the framework of an international trial observation mission.
At the beginning of the hearing, three out of four
individuals whom the investigative body unilaterally recognised as “victims” of
alleged embezzlement by Mr. Rasul Jafarov stated he had actually no complaints
against the latter, and asked the court to dismiss his “victim” status. Lawyer
Fariz Namazly subsequently requested the court to remove the “victim” status of
all the individuals concerned, as they had not suffered any damage by Mr.
Jafarov. This request was dismissed by the judge.
In addition, at the same hearing, lawyer Fariz Namazli
addressed five petitions to the court, most of which had already been
formulated during the preliminary hearing.
In his first petition, he requested the court to let
the defendant seat beside his lawyers during court sessions.
In his second petition, he requested a microphone to
be installed in the room, so the audience could hear the parties' arguments
clearly, in line with the principle of transparency of debates.
In his third petition, he asked that the detention of
Mr. Jafarov be commuted into house arrest, arguing that since the preliminary
investigation is over, there is no risk that Mr. Jafarov may hide from the investigation,
try to influence criminal proceedings or try to falsify evidence. To support
this claim, Mr. Namazli added that the conditions and length of Mr. Jafarov's
transfer from the detention centre to the court are usually tiresome, thus
affecting his ability to fully defend himself once in the courtroom, in
violation of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
In his fourth petition, lawyer Fariz Namazli requested
the court to drop the case and accusations against Mr. Jafarov, arguing in
particular that the latter has always signed grant agreements with donors as a
natural person to carry out his human rights activities, using his accounts
only as an individual, and not within a legal entity.
In his fifth petition, Mr. Namazli finally requested
the court to exclude from the case file an audit on Mr. Jafarov’s accounts
signed by representatives of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Taxes and
the Council on State Support to NGOs, since these bodies do not have authority
to investigate the activities of an individual.
While the state prosecutor opposed all the
applications, the court rejected four of them, and only granted a minor one
allowing Mr. Jafarov to sit next to his lawyers.
The prosecutor then read the indictment, describing
the use of grants by Mr. Jafarov as "illegal business and
appropriation". The investigation body alleges that Mr. Jafarov is
responsible for a misappropriation of 150,636 manat, and for tax evasion
amounting to 6,257 manat (around the same amount in euros).
Mr. Jafarov pleaded not guilty, declared that the
charges were unclear, and asked the court to clarify the accusations of “abuse
of office” and “forgery”. These requests were all dismissed by the judge.
The next hearing was adjourned to February 10, 2015.
On that day, at the start of the hearing, Mr. Jafarov refused to testify,
arguing that the indictment was not clear to him.
Accordingly, the judge read out the statement Mr.
Jafarov provided during the preliminary investigation on July 31, 2014. In his
statement, Mr. Rasul Jafarov reportedly noted that he founded an organisation
named the “Human Rights Club” together with two other human rights defenders,
and submitted the organisation’s documents to the Ministry of Justice for
registration. However, since the organisation was not registered by the
Ministry, he had to sign grant agreements as a physical person. In December of
2012, within the framework of the “Art for Democracy” campaign, he received a
financial assistance of 2,000 manat from the United Kingdom embassy to present
the project and hold an event at the Jazz Center. The event was attended by
British and French ambassadors as well as other officials.
In his statement, Mr. Jafarov also noted that he had
signed grant contracts with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), People
in Need and Fritt Ord, that all the activities envisaged in his projects had
been implemented, and that information on such implementation was published in
the media. He further stated that grant funds intended for these projects had
been transferred to his personal bank accounts.
Mr. Jafarov also highlighted that after the adoption
of the amendments on NGO laws in 2013, prohibiting activities in the framework
of unregistered NGOs, the activities of the Human Rights Club were suspended.
In order to continue his human rights activities, Mr. Jafarov therefore applied
to, and became a member of, the state-registered Legal Protection and Awareness
Society (LPAS). From then onwards, grant contracts were signed between LPAS and
the German Marshall Fund and NED, and the funds for these projects were
transferred to the organisation’s bank account. On June 9, 2014, during a
general meeting of LPAS, Mr. Jafarov was elected as Chairman of the Board.
However, this election was not registered by the Ministry of Justice.
At the same February-10 hearing, the protocol of
interrogation of Mr. Jafarov as the accused person was subsequently read out:
during this interrogation, Mr. Jafarov confirmed the statement that he had
provided during the preliminary investigation, and highlighted that he did not
consider himself guilty of the announced charges.
Replying to a question of the public prosecutor,
asking why the above-mentioned grants had not been registered, Mr. Jafarov
said, one the one hand, that the Azeri legislation did not provide any
registration mechanism for grants received by physical persons and that at the
time, the Ministry of Justice did not have any register in place for grants
received by physical persons, and further stated, on the other hand, that after
the adoption of the legislative amendments prohibiting unregistered NGOs to
implement grants, projects were implemented through the LPAS.
Then, Mr. Anar Jabiyev (Nagilbaz), who was also
designated as a “victim” by the investigative body, stated that he had received
the full amount of 1,720 manat indicated on a document from Mr. Jafarov to
compose a song calling citizens to participate in the 2013 presidential
election as well as to record a video clip. Mr. Jabiyev added that in the
statement he provided to the investigative body one year later, he had
mentioned an amount of 1,200 manat as he did not remember the exact amount. He
further specified that after returning home, checking his notebook and
realising that the amount was different, he had made an application to the
Prosecutor General’s Office for re-questioning, which was not granted, and that
he was only questioned again after being assigned the victim status. He
concluded that he did not have any claim against Mr. Rasul Jafarov, and
requested the repeal of his victim status.
Similarly, during the February-10 hearing, another
alleged “victim”, Mr. Ahmad Heybatov, who made a video about the election,
stated that he received an amount of 1,720 manat, adding that during his
interrogation, investigators forced him to mention a figure, and that since he
could not remember the exact amount, he said he thought it was around 800
manat. However, after returning home and checking the exact figure, he sent a
letter to the investigative body, asking them to be allowed to provide a
statement with the correct amount, and to be interrogated again. However, he
was likewise interrogated again only after being granted the “victim” status by
the investigative body. He concluded that he did not have any claim against Mr.
Rasul Jafarov, and requested the repeal of his victim status.
Furthermore, another person identified as a victim,
Mr. Seymur Verdizade, said that he did not know Mr. Rasul Jafarov personally,
that he did not have any claims against him either, and that his victim status
should also be repealed.
The other two persons identified as victims did not
attend the February-10 hearing.
Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and
psychological integrity of Mr. Rasul Jafarov and all human rights defenders in
ii. Immediately release Mr. Rasul Jafarov, as well as all
the other arbitrarily detained
human rights defenders, since their detentions are arbitrary and only aim at
sanctioning their human rights activities;
iii. Dismiss the victims' status of all the above-mentioned
persons called to testify, in line with the principles of due process and
presumption of innocence, since they declared during the hearings to have never
suffered any material damage from Mr. Rasul Jafarov;
iv. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at
the judicial level - against Mr. Rasul Jafarov, and more generally against all
human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;
v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on
Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations
on December 9, 1998, especially:
- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right,
individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the
protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the
national and international levels”;
- Article 5, which underscores the right of every
individual to form, join, and participate in non-governmental organizations; and
- Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall
“take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent
authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against
any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination,
pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her
legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;
vi. Amend the domestic NGO legislation and grant
legislation, and bring them in compliance with the opinion 787/2014 of the
European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), adopted on
December 15, 2014;
vii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights
and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights
standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.
Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the
Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan,
19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 25, (+994)
412 92 28 68, E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Zakir Garalov,
Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prosecutor’s Office,
7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 82, (+994) 12
492 26 63, E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Eldar Mahmudov,
Minister of National Security, Ministry of National Security of the Republic of
Azerbaijan, Parliament Avenue 14, Baku AZ1006, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 493-76-22, E-mail: email@example.com
· Mr. Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs, Ministry
of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Fax: (+994) 12 492 45 90
Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the
Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan,
Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail: email@example.com; Fax (+994) 12 430
H.E. Mr. Murad N.
Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the
United Nations in Geneva, Route des
Fayards 237, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland, Fax: (+41) 22 901 18
44, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels, Avenue
Moliere 464, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 345 91 85
Please also write to the diplomatic
missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU
diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the
code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is
dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them
concrete support in their time of need.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80