Joint Open letter to His Holiness Pope Francis on political prisoners in Azerbaijan

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12 July 2016

Open letter by the CivicSolidarity Platform, NGOs from Sport for Rights coalition and other NGOs to HisHoliness Pope Francis on political prisoners in Azerbaijan

Dear Holy Father,

This autumn you will be visiting Azerbaijan. Thecitizens and the authorities in this country, as well as others, will belistening carefully to the message you deliver in public and in private. Similarlyto the words addressed in Armenia in June, your speech in Azerbaijan will carrya special weight as they will come at a time when the threat of a return to warhangs over Armenia and Azerbaijan and the resulting destabilisation couldaffect the entire Caucasus.

We, the undersigned NGOs, members of the CivicSolidarity Platform and Sport for Rights coalition, as well as other NGOs, kindlyentreat Your Holiness to help bring lasting peace and respect for human rights inthe region and particularly in Azerbaijan. We kindly ask that you call for therelease of those political prisoners still remaining in prison. One of them,Ilgar Mammadov, an opposition politician, remains in prison despite a EuropeanCourt of Human Rights judgment delivered more than two years ago, stating that hewas convicted without any evidence, with the aim of silencing his criticism ofthe government.[1]

Your predecessor, Pope John Paul II, said topoliticians on his visit to Baku in 2002 that, “your specific activity is the service of the common good, the promotionof legality and justice, the guarantee of freedom and prosperity for all…Politicsrequires honesty and accountability. The people should be able to feelunderstood and protected…Those who accept responsibility for administeringpublic affairs cannot deceive themselves: people do not forget! Just as they rememberwith gratitude those who have laboured honestly in the service of the commongood, so they pass on to their children and grandchildren bitter criticism ofthose who abused power to enrich themselves[2].

Unfortunately, this message remains valid today in Azerbaijanwhere political and economic corruption is rampant and human rights are notrespected. This message remains especially pertinent in Azerbaijan where dozensof political prisoners continue to languish in detention. On their behalf, werespectfully ask you to raise this issue with Azerbaijan’s authorities and callfor the unconditional release of all imprisoned on false charges.

Peace and respect for human rights are inextricablyconnected. Peace must come to the Caucasus and with it freedom, for both of whichPope John Paul II called. We hope that your words will encourage the leaderswith whom you meet to choose a political path that embodies the spirit of freedomand respect for human rights.

With every best wish. Yours sincerely,

On behalf of the Helsinki Foundationfor Human Rights, Poland,

Danuta Przywara

President of the Board

Supported by NGOs members ofthe Civic Solidarity Platform and other NGOs:

Article 19

Center for the Development of Democracy and HumanRights

Freedom House

Freedom Now

Human Rights Mouvment "BirDuino-Kyrgyzstan"

Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan

Index on Censorship

Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights andRule of Law

People in Need

Polish Green Network

Promo LEX Association

Public Association "Dignity"

Public Verdict

Reporters Without Borders

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee

World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)

[1] I. Mammadov v.Azerbaijan, judgment of 22 May 2014, application no. 15172/13.

[2] Address of the Holy Father at a meetingwith religious, political, cultural and arts representatives, Baku PresidentialPalace, Wednesday, 22 May 2002.

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