Urgent Interventions

Several human rights defenders free at last, while others remain behind bars

Paris-Geneva,March 18, 2016 - The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) welcomes the release yesterdayof human rights defenders Rauf Mirqadirov, Rasul Jafarov, Anar Mammadli andHilal Mammadov, and calls on the Azeri authorities to release those stilldetained, including Khadija Ismayilova and Intigam Aliyev.

On March 17,Rasul Jafarov, founder of the "Sport for Rights" campaign, wasreleased by presidential pardon decree just a few hours after the European Court of HumanRights issued a judgment in his case, condemning Azerbaijanfor violating his right to personal liberty. Messrs. Anar Mammadli, Headof the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDSC), and HilalMammadov, Chief Editor of the newspaper Tolyshi sado (The Voiceof Talysh), were also included in the presidential decree, along with 12other political prisoners. Earlier in the morning, Rauf Mirqadirov,former correspondent of the Zerkalo newspaper in Turkey, was released bythe Baku Court of Appeals, which commuted his six-year prison sentence into asuspended five-year sentence. Mr. Mirqadirov had been arbitrarily detainedsince April 2014 on trumped-up charges of "State treason".

"Weare so relieved that many of those fighting for freedoms in Azerbaijan are nowfree. We nonetheless regret that independent journalist Khadija Ismayilova andprominent human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev are still unjustly detained, andcall for their immediate and unconditional release", FIDH HonoraryPresident Souhayr Belhassen said today.

"While we rejoice for those beingreleased yesterday, we note that many others are yet to be released”,said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. "Others like our colleague LeylaYunus, Head of the Institute for Peace and Democracy and OMCT General Assemblymember, and her husband Arif Yunusov, do not figure on the list of thosepardoned, which prevents them from accessing life-saving medical treatment inBerlin".

Theabove-mentioned human rights defenders were all arrested between April andDecember 2014 as part of a crackdown of Azeri authorities on civil society,while Azerbaijan was chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council ofEurope. Throughout 2015, the Observatory has tirelessly mobilised for theirrelease, in particular through a fact-finding mission in Azerbaijan, a seriesof trial observations, and sustained advocacy before intergovernmentalorganisations such as the Council of Europe. In June 2015, after a heateddebate and the adoption of a seriesof amendments, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council ofEurope had passed a landmarkresolution calling for the release of human rights defendersand all political prisoners. On October 2015, Council of Europe SecretaryGeneral Thorbjørn Jagland had suspendedthe Council's participation in a Baku-based Joint Working Group on Human Rights,echoing a recommendation of the Observatory. Eventually, in December 2015, theSecretary General decided to launch an enquiryunder the rarely used Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rightsto investigate Azerbaijan's persistent violation of the Convention.

TheObservatory calls on the Azeri authorities to release Ms. Khadija Ismayilova and Mr. IntigamAliyev immediately and unconditionally, to drop all charges against Mr.Rauf Mirqadirov, and to lift the travel ban on Leyla and Arif Yunus, sothey can benefit from required medical care abroad. The Observatory moregenerally calls on the Azeri authorities to conform in any circumstances withthe UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as well as international andEuropean standards such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS) was created in1997 by FIDHand the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT).The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situationsof repression against human rights defenders.

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