6 December 2016
The government ofAzerbaijan is carrying out a multi-pronged attack on freedom of expression,including introducing harsh penalties for critical speech online, imprisoningyoung activists for nothing more than graffiti, blocking access to websites ofindependent media, and harassing and violating the rights of journalists andactivists. The undersigned organisations call upon the Azerbaijani authoritiesto reverse this alarming trend and respect basic human rights and freedoms, aswell as for international partners to ensure Azerbaijan honours its treatycommitments as a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Earlier this year,two young activists from the N!DA youth movement, Bayram Mammadov and QiyasIbrahimov, were arrested after spraypainting graffiti on a monument to HeydarAliyev in Baku. They were arrested on spurious drug charges and allegedlytortured repeatedly in police custody. Ibrahimov was recently sentenced to ten yearsimprisonment in what the head of the country’s press freedom watchdog Institutefor Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Emin Huseynov rightfully called, “a primeexample of travesty of justice in Azerbaijan.”. Mammadov, whose trial isunderway, will most likely face the same fate as last Friday the prosecutionrequested a 10 years and 6 months imprisonment for him.
In Sumqayit, thejournalist Ikram Rahimov and a private citizen Rahman Novruzov were sentencedto a year in prison for libel after reporting on bribery and tax evasion bylocal authorities. In striking similarity to the N!DA case, Rahimov alleges hewas tortured for three days by local police after refusing to apologise to thelocal authorities whose criminal activity he had uncovered. Meanwhile inJalilabad region, the journalist Afgan Sadigov is set to begin trial for “inflictionof a minor harm to heath” after an altercation with a local woman with ahistory of getting into physical confrontations with citizens who angerregional authorities through dissent or critical reporting. Sadigov faces up tofive years in prison.
“The arbitrarypersecution of Azerbaijani journalists is disturbing, and it is vital that thestate protect its citizens’ rights to expression and freedom from torture andarbitrary detention,” said Robert Hårdh, Director of Civil Rights Defenders,“these cases represent a serious deterioration in the rule of law in thecountry, and it is vital that steps be taken to remedy the situation.”
Independentjournalists who stay out of jail are also having a hard time reaching theiraudience, as the websites of the local affiliates of RFE/RL and Voice ofAmerica have reportedly been blocked .
Finally, on 30 Novemberparliament passed laws criminalising “online defamation or derogation of honorand dignity” of President Ilham Aliyev. Violators face fines up to 1000 AZN(€537) or two years in prison, or 1500 AZN (€805) or a year in prison if theydo so using “fake profiles or nicknames.” As online defamation is alreadycriminalised in Azerbaijan, this amounts primarily to another warning thatdissent, in any form, will be harshly punished.
‘The new law is ablatant attempt to clamp down on the only remaining space for Azerbaijanipeople to freely express themselves in a country where traditional media havebeen silenced via legal means and harassment’, said Gulnara Akhundova, Head ofDepartment at International Media Support.
The undersignedorganisations call on the Azerbaijani authorities to cease thepolitically-motivated prosecution and torture of journalists, to repeal the newlaws further criminalising dissent and free speech, to vacate the conviction ofQiyas Ibrahimov and cease the persecution of Bayram Mammadov, and finally thepublic unfettered access to independent sources of news and opinion.Furthermore, we call on Azerbaijan’s international partners to use theirleverage, both bilaterally and through multilateral institutions, to holdAzerbaijan accountable to its international commitments, and the board of theExtractive Industries Transparency Initiative to take the aforementionedviolations of basic human rights into consideration when deciding onAzerbaijan’s continued membership.
CEE Bankwatch Network
Civil Rights Defenders
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights House Foundation
Index on Censorship
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
International Media Support
International Partnership for Human Rights
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
People in Need
Reporters Without Borders
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)