The undersigned organisations strongly condemnthe abduction and torture of Azerbaijani journalist Mehman Huseynov and call onAzerbaijan’s authorities to immediately investigate the case and to hold thoseresponsible accountable. Moreover, Huseynov’s conviction should be overturnedand the travel ban against him lifted. We further call upon the Azerbaijaniauthorities to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists,bloggers and activists currently imprisoned in Azerbaijan solely for exercisingthe right to freedom of expression.
Mehman Huseynov, Azerbaijan’s top political bloggerand chairman of the local press freedom group, Institute for Reporters’ Freedomand Safety (IRFS), the country’s leading press freedom group, was abducted in CentralBaku at around 8 pm local time on Monday 9 January. He was pushed into avehicle by unknown assailants and driven away. His whereabouts were unknownuntil early afternoon on Tuesday, when it emerged that Huseynov had been apprehendedby unidentified police agents.
On 10 January, Huseynov was taken to NasimiDistrict Court, where he was tried on charges of disobeying the police (Article535.1 of the Administrative Offences Code), which carries a sentence of up to30 days in jail. The Court released him; however, he was fined 200 AZN (approx.100 EUR).
Huseynov said he was tortured while inpolice custody. He reported being driven around for several hours, blindfoldedand suffocated with a bag. He also said that he was given electric shocks inthe car. On being brought to Nasimi District Police Department he lostconsciousness and collapsed. An ambulance was called, and he was givenpainkillers and sleep-inducers by way of injection. His lawyers confirmed that his injuries were visible during the courthearing. The court also ordered that Nasimi district prosecutor’s officeconduct investigation into Mehman Huseynov’s torture reports.
“We resolutely denounce this act of tortureand wish Mehman Huseynov a rapid recovery,” said Gulnara Akhundova, the Head ofDepartment at International Media Support. “All charges against Huseynov mustbe dropped unconditionally, and those responsible for his torture should betried in an independent and impartial manner, as should those in the chain ofcommand who are implicated”.
'The fact the Mehman Huseynov was convictedof disobeying the police for refusing to get into the car of his abductorsbeggars belief. We know that the Azerbaijan authorities have a long history ofbringing trumped up charges against writers and activists. His conviction should be overturnedimmediately' said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers inPrison Committee.
"This is another example of continuedrepression against journalists in Azerbaijan, which is why RSF considers Aliyeva predator of press freedom. Huseynov is one of dozens of journalists andcitizen journalists who remain under politically motivated travel bans.Although he has been released, he remains at serious risk. The international communitymust act now to protect him and other critical voices in Azerbaijan." saidJohann Bihr, the head of RSF Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Although Huseynov’s family and colleagues hadrepeatedly contacted the police since his disappearance on 9 January 2017, theywere not informed about his arrest until early afternoon the following day whenhe was brought to court. Hence, theundersigned organisations consider Huseynov’s abduction as an enforced disappearance,defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by stateofficials, or their agents, followed by a refusal to acknowledge thedeprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. The UN WorkingGroup on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has repeatedly clarified that‘there is no time limit, not matter how short, for an enforced disappearance tooccur’. As a signatory of the International Convention for the Protection ofAll Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), Azerbaijan is obliged to refrain from acts that would defeat orundermine the ICPPED’s objective and purpose.
Despite the much-lauded release of politicalprisoners in March 2016, the persecution of critical voices in Azerbaijan has acceleratedin recent months. Currently, there are dozens of journalists and activists behindbars for exercising their right to free expression in Azerbaijan.
“The government has sought to destroy civilsociety and the media in Azerbaijan, while developing relations with Westernstates to secure lucrative oil and gas deals”, said Katie Morris, Head of theEurope and Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19.
“While the government may release ajournalist one day, the following day they will arrest or harass others,creating a climate of fear to prevent people speaking out. The internationalcommunity must clearly condemn this behaviour and apply pressure for systemicreform”, she added.
“We must stop the sense of impunity on attacksagainst journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, of which thisattack against Mehman Huseynov is a sad illustration. The internationalcommunity must seriously address this climate of impunity and take concreteactions, through the Council of Europe and the United Nations Human RightsCouncil, to regularly monitor the human rights situation in Azerbaijan and holdthe authorities to their commitments in this regard,” said Ane Tusvik Bonde,Regional Manager for Eastern Europe and Caucasus at the Human Rights HouseFoundation.
The undersigned organisations call on theauthorities to take the necessary measures to put an end to vicious cycle ofimpunity for wide-spread human rights violations in the country.
We call on the international community toundertake an immediate review of their relations with Azerbaijan to ensure thathuman rights are at more consistently placed at the heart of all on-goingnegotiations with the government. Immediate and concrete action must be takento hold Azerbaijan accountable for its international obligations and encourage meaningfulhuman rights reform in law and practice.
Civil Rights Defenders
FIDH - International Federation for HumanRights
Front Line Defenders
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights House Foundation
Index on Censorship
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)