We, the undersigned members of theSport for Rights coalition, express our relief over the release of 15 politicalprisoners in Azerbaijan. Human rights defender Rasul Jafarov, the founder ofthe Sport for Rights campaign, stepped out from Baku’s Prison Number 10 intofreedom on 17 March after spending 593 days unjustly jailed. The same day, theEuropean Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in Jafarov’s case, acknowledging that hisarrest and detention were politically motivated.
Jafarov was one of 14 politicalprisoners included in a presidential pardon decree signed on 17 March. The other political prisoners pardoned through thatdecree included journalists Parviz Hashimli, Hilal Mammadov, and Tofig Yagublu;human rights defenders Taleh Khasmammadov and Anar Mammadli; NIDA civicmovement activists Rashadat Akhundov, Mahammad Azizov and Rashad Hasanov;bloggers Siraj Karimli and Omar Mammadov; former government official AkifMuradverdiyev; chairman of the National Statehood party Nemat Penahli; andMusavat party activist Yadigar Sadigov.
A further political prisoner,journalist Rauf Mirkadirov, was released on 17 March by the Baku Court ofAppeals, which commuted his six-year prison sentence into a suspended five-yearsentence. Mirkadirov had been unjustly jailed since April 2014 on politicallymotivated treason charges.
“We are incredibly relieved for those released yesterday, includingRasul Jafarov, who was arrested in August 2014 after launching our campaign todraw attention to human rights abuses taking place in Azerbaijan. But none ofthese 15 people ever should have been arrested in the first place, and dozensmore remain unjustly jailed now, neglected by this pardon decree. They must bereleased, and this vicious cycle of politically motivated arrests must end”, said Rebecca Vincent, coordinatorof the Sport for Rights campaign.
While the release of these politicalprisoners was the right step, we note that they never should have spent asingle day in jail. Further, dozens of other political prisoners remain inAzerbaijani jails, including journalists Khadija Ismayilova and Seymur Hezi,human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, youth activist Ilkin Rustemzade, andopposition REAL movement leader Ilgar Mammadov, whose release has been orderedby the European Court of Human Rights.
We reiterate our call for theimmediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, and for an endto the cycle of politically motivated arrests in Azerbaijan. We urge the internationalcommunity to continue to press for the release of the remaining politicalprisoners as a matter of urgent priority, and for further concrete reforms toimprove the country’s dire human rights situation.
Civil Rights Defenders
Committee to Protect Journalists
Front Line Defenders
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights House Foundation
Index on Censorship
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom andSafety
International Federation for Human Rights(FIDH)
International Media Support
International Partnership for HumanRights
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
People in Need
Polish Green Network
Reporters Without Borders World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
- Urgent Interventions
Several human rights defenders free at last, while others remain behind bars