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IRFS (14.10.2014) - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety resolutely condemns the campaign against Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil, and calls on the authorities to end this harassment immediately.
The criminal defamation lawsuit brought against Khadija Ismayil in a private prosecution case, the accusations of treason published in the pro-government media (cooperation with Armenia), and her recent detention at Baku Airport are clear indicators that her arrest may be imminent.
Most recently, the Prosecutor General's Office has imposed a travel ban on Khadija Ismayil, prohibiting her from leaving the country. As a consequence, she was unable to fly to Prague on October 12, to take her place at the international Forum 2000 conference. She was informed by border officials at Baku Heydar Aliyev Airport that the Prosecutor General's Office has imposed a ban on her departure from the country. However, she has not been presented any court decision in relation to the travel ban.
Imposing a travel ban without any legitimate grounds interferes with Ismayil's professional work as a journalist and constitutes a flagrant violation of her right to freedom of movement, enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights, ratified by Azerbaijan in 2002.
By taking action in relation to defamation charges against a journalist at a time when it chairs the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE), the Azerbaijani government is demonstrating once again its unwillingness to fulfill its pledge to decriminalize defamation, a commitment it made upon accession to the CoE.
The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety notes that Khadija Ismayil is being targeted for her investigations into high-level corruption involving the family of President Ilham Aliyev, her determined advocacy for official transparency, and her work in informing the international community about the situation of human rights, particularly freedom of expression, in Azerbaijan.
The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety reminds the international community that the past two months have seen unprecedented human rights violations by Azerbaijani officials. There are more than 10 journalists and bloggers behind bars; there has been a wave of arrests of human rights defenders; organizations defending media freedom have been shutdown. The government's repressive policy in the field of human rights could hardly be more evident.
The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety emphasizes that the freedoms of expression and information are protected under a number of international treaties and legal instruments signed and ratified by Azerbaijan, inter alia the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10).
The UN Human Rights Council's recent resolution on the safety of journalists has strongly condemned all cases of attacks and violence against journalists, including harassment and intimidation.
The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety calls upon the President Aliyev to take concrete steps to eliminate the assault on freedom of expression and to decriminalize defamation, reminding him of his constitutional responsibility as the guarantor of the rights of citizens.
The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety calls on international organizations, particularly the Council of Europe and the OSCE, to take a firm stand and put more pressure on the government of Azerbaijan to fulfill its obligations related to freedom of expression, and specifically to demand the immediate adoption of the draft law decriminalizing defamation.
USCIRF (30.09.2014) - Leyla has been shortlisted for the Dutch Tulip Prize 2014. Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus is among the nominations for the Netherlands Human Rights Tulip 2014. You can cast you vote for Leyla’s nomination for the Human Rights Tulip at http://www.humanrightstulip.nl/candidates-and-voting/leyla-yunus
Leyla Yunus is a pioneering woman human rights defender with a strong track record in peacebuilding and human rights defense. She has been involved in protecting political prisoners, defending women’s rights, combating torture, corruption, human trafficking, and property rights violations, as well as monitoring court proceedings, both in Azerbaijan as beyond national borders. She has been also involved in several activities of the Women Peacemakers Program (WPP). Her outspokenness and ability to generate broad awareness on human rights violations, most recently by speaking out against human rights violations in relation to international events hosted by Azerbaijan (Eurovision Song Festival (2012) and the First European Olympic Games (2015)) have resulted in her arrest and detention (since July 30, 2014) by the Azerbaijan authorities. Five days later her husband Arif was also detained, leaving them both to face inhumane conditions in prison.
Stand with Leyla and support her nomination for the Human Rights Tulip! The Human Rights Tulip will be a recognition for the innovative work of Leyla as a woman human rights activist and her dedication to justice. It will also be a call for support against the inhumane conditions Leyla is facing in prison, being denied access to legal counseling, healthcare and proper food. Moreover, the award will raise awareness on the 98 political prisoners in Azerbaijan - including Leyla as the only woman, and her husband Arif Yunus - and the political pressure human rights activists in Azerbaijan, as all over the world, are facing.
More information about Leyla’s work and current condition in detention, can be found at https://www.womenpeacemakersprogram.org/news/call-for-action-women-peace-activist-azerbaijan-arrested
More information about the Human Rights Tulip can be found at http://www.humanrightstulip.nl/about-the-award.
OSCE (02.06.2014) – The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, started his official trip to the South Caucasus today with a visit to Baku, where he discussed with President llham Aliyev new aspects of co-operation between the OSCE and Azerbaijan, and called for implementing tension-reducing measures regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The visit also included meetings with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, the Speaker of Parliament Ogtay Asadov and representatives of political parties and the civil society. Speaking about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Burkhalter encouraged President Aliyev to move step by step towards a peaceful settlement. He would welcome intensified negotiations and a next presidential meeting as a starting point of a structured process leading towards a peaceful solution, Burkhalter said.
Burkhalter expressed his regrets that 20 years after the 1994 ceasefire, violent incidents at the Line of Contact and the international border remain a frequent phenomenon. He called on the sides to strictly adhere to the ceasefire agreement, to implement an incident investigation mechanism, to encourage people-to-people contact and to agree on further confidence-building measures.
Burkhalter reiterated the full support of the Swiss Chairmanship for the work of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and his Personal Representative, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, in facilitating the negotiating process.
The work of the newly-established Project Co-ordinator’s Office in Baku was another key subject of the discussions. Burkhalter said he hoped for close co-operation between Azerbaijan’s government and the Project Co-ordinator which will take full account of the needs and priorities of the country and cover all three security dimensions: the politico-military, economic and environmental, as well as the human dimension.
The Chairperson-in-Office was accompanied by his Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Ambassador Angelo Gnaedinger, his Personal Representative for the conflict dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference, Ambassador Andrzej Kaspryzk and by the Project Co-ordinator in Baku, Ambassador Alexis Chahtahtinsky.
Later today, Burkhalter will depart for Georgia where he will hold high-level talks tomorrow. He will conclude his visit to the region on 4 June in Yerevan.
For PDF attachments or links to sources of further information, please visit: http://www.osce.org/cio/119395
IRFS (27.05.2014) - Today, the Azerbaijani government sentenced journalist and blogger Abdul Abilov to 5.6 years in prison on drug charges after he published Facebook posts fiercely critical of the authorities. The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns the ruling and urges Azerbaijani authorities to overturn this conviction and stop persecuting the critical voice.
"Today's harsh conviction of blogger Abdul Abilov shows once again the extraordinary measures that authorities are willing to take to crush criticism of their repressive policies, inconsistent with the country’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe.”, IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov said.
Abilov’s sentencing comes amid a mounting crackdown on Azerbaijan's journalists and bloggers. With eight journalists and seven bloggers and online activists behind bars, Azerbaijan is the worst jailer in the region, leaving behind countries like Belarus Russia and Uzbekistan.
“We strongly condemn the sentence and are extremely disappointed that the court imposed such a harsh punishment merely because Abilov exercised his fundamental right to peaceful freedom of expression,” Huseynov said.
“Unfortunately, this clear violation of the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights is only the latest example of the Azerbaijani government’s continued use of justice system to stifle independent and critical voices.”, Huseynov said.
Abilov was running Facebook page "Stop sycophants!" which was closed following after his arrest.
Abilov’s imprisonment comes just on the heels of other politically-motivated convictions in cases against human rights defenders Anar Mammadli, Bashir Suleymanli and journalist Parviz Hashimli.
IRFS is deeply concerned over continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan at a time when the country presides over Europe’s top human rights watchdog. ““The Council of Europe should react quickly and clearly. The Council must immediately appoint a special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan who would precisely analyze the current situation and take the issue up to the Parliamentary Assembly. That would be a symbolic measure that would not hurt, but only benefit the Azerbaijani people”, IRFS Head said.
IRFS once again calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to stop using courts to imprison critics and to release all those jailed for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.
European Court of Human Rights (22.05.2014) - In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Ilgar Mammadov v. Azerbaijan (application no. 15172/13), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights;
a violation of Article 5 § 4 (right to judicial review of one’s detention);
a violation of Article 6 § 2 (presumption of innocence); and
a violation of Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights).
The case concerned the arrest and detention pending trial of an opposition politician and blogger following his reports on street protests in the town of Ismayilli in January 2013.
The Court considered that Mr Mammadov, who had a history of criticising the Government, had been arrested and detained without any evidence to reasonably suspect him of having committed the offence with which he was charged, namely that of having organised actions leading to public disorder. The Court concluded that the actual purpose of his detention had been to silence or punish Mr Mammadov for criticising the Government and publishing information it was trying to hide.
The applicant, Ilgar Eldar oglu Mammadov, is an Azerbaijani national who was born in 1970 and lives in Baku. Having been involved in various political organisations for a number of years, he is the co-founder of an opposition party, the Republican Alternative Civic Movement (“REAL”), for which he considered running in the November 2013 presidential elections. He also maintained an Internet blog in which he commented on political issues. In particular, in November 2012, he strongly criticised members of the National Assembly for having adopted a new law introducing heavy sanctions for unauthorised public gatherings. On 24 January 2013, Mr Mammadov travelled to the town of Ismayilli, northwest of Baku, in order to report on street riots which had broken out there the previous day. According to media reports, the protests had been triggered by an incident involving V.A., the son of the Minister of Labour and nephew of a local politician. The reports claimed that after being involved in a car accident, V.A. had insulted and physically assaulted passengers of the other car, who were local residents.
As a reaction, hundreds of local residents took to the streets and damaged property in Ismayilli thought to be owned by V.A.’s family, including a hotel. In a joint press statement, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General’s Office placed the blame for the rioting on a hotel manager and one of his family members, who had allegedly damaged local property and had incited people to riot. Also in response to the rioting, V.A.’s uncle publicly denied that the hotel which had been damaged belonged to his family.
In his blog Mr Mammadov described his impressions of the events in Ismayilli. In particular, on 25 January 2013, he reported that the events were caused by “the general tension arising from corruption and insolence” of public officials. On 28 January 2013, he reported that the hotel which had been damaged was actually owned by V.A. – referring in particular to information found on the official website of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and on V.A.’s Facebook page – thereby contradicting directly the earlier denial by V.A.’s uncle. Within one hour after the publication of Mr Mammadov’s blog post, the information cited by him was removed from these websites, but his blog entry was extensively quoted in the media.
In another joint press statement, on 29 January 2013, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General’s Office stated, among other things, that two politicians, including Mr Mammadov, had made appeals to local residents in Ismayilli aimed at social and political destabilisation, and that their “illegal actions” would be investigated.
Subsequently Mr Mammadov was questioned by the prosecutor about his role in the events.
According to the record submitted by the Azerbaijani Government, the prosecutor held two face-toface confrontations, in which two local residents stated that Mr Mammadov had told protesters to throw stones at the police. Mr Mammadov denied these statements as fabricated.
In February 2013, Mr Mammadov was charged with the offences of organising or actively participating in actions causing a breach of public order. A district court ordered his remand in custody for a period of two months, stating in particular that there was a risk he would abscond or disrupt the course of the investigation. Neither the official charges nor the order for his remand in custody mentioned the face-to-face confrontations with the local residents.
Mr Mammadov’s detention was subsequently extended on several occasions and his appeals against the detention orders were rejected by the courts. In April 2013, the charges against him were changed to the offence of resistance or violence against public officials, posing a threat to their life or health, which carried a heavier sentence. In March 2014 Mr Mammadov was convicted and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. His appeal against the conviction is pending.
Mr Mammadov’s nomination as a candidate for the presidential elections was refused by the Central Electoral Commission in September 2013, stating that there were a number of invalid signatures among the voter signatures he had submitted in support of his nomination.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
Relying in particular on Article 5 §§ 1, 3 and 4 (right to liberty and security), Mr Mammadov complained in particular: that he was arrested and detained without a “reasonable suspicion” that he had committed a criminal offence; that the national courts failed to provide relevant and sufficient reasons justifying the necessity for his continued detention; and, that there was no adequate judicial review of his detention. Relying on Article 6 § 2 (presumption of innocence), he complained that his right to be presumed innocent was breached by the press statement issued by the Prosecutor General and the Ministry of Internal Affairs alleging that Mr Mammadov had illegally made appeals to local residents aimed at social and political destabilisation. Furthermore, relying in particular on Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights), he complained that his rights were restricted for purposes other than those prescribed in the Convention. He submitted that his arrest and the criminal proceedings against him had been repressive measures aimed at removing him as a critic of the Government and a potentially serious opponent in the presidential elections.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 25 February 2013.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Isabelle Berro-Lefèvre (Monaco), President,
Elisabeth Steiner (Austria),
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan),
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”),
Erik Møse (Norway),
Ksenija Turković (Croatia),
Dmitry Dedov (Russia),
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
Decision of the Court
Article 5 §§ 1 and 3
Concerning Mr Mammadov’s complaint that there had not been a “reasonable suspicion” against him, within the meaning of Article 5 § 1, to justify his arrest and prolonged detention, the Court first noted that the initial charge of “organising public disorder” had subsequently been replaced by a more serious charge, “mass disorder”, without a change to the description of the facts.
As regards the circumstances of his arrest, the Court found it significant that Mr Mammadov was an opposition politician, who had a history of criticising the Government in the wake of the upcoming presidential elections, and that before his arrest he had published in his blog information which showed that at least part of the official version of what had happened in Ismayilli might not be true.
Furthermore, Mr Mammadov had been charged with “organising” a riot that had already started in Ismayilli one day before his visit to the town. By all accounts, he had nothing to do with the original incident of 23 January 2013 which had triggered the protests.
Moreover, the authorities’ own account of the events showed that most, if not all, of the damage caused by the rioting had taken place on the day before Mr Mammadov’s arrival. Against this background, the prosecution had essentially accused him of having – one day after the spontaneous protests had already taken place and within the two hours of his stay in Ismayilli – seized considerable control over the situation, established himself as the leader of the protestors, whom he had not known before, and had directly caused the subsequent disorder.
Mr Mammadov had consistently submitted that the prosecution had failed to produce any evidence giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that he had committed any of the crimes with which he was charged. The Court observed that the Government had not submitted any specific arguments to rebut his assertions. In particular, the prosecution’s official documents mentioned no witness statements or other specific information giving reason to suspect him of those crimes. As regards the records of Mr Mammadov’s face-to-face confrontations with the local residents, they had not been presented to the national courts and they had been submitted by the Government without any explanation as to why they were relevant to the complaint.
The Court concluded that the Government had not demonstrated that during the period under consideration Mr Mammadov had been deprived of his liberty on a “reasonable suspicion” of having committed a criminal offence. There had accordingly been a violation of Article 5 § 1.
Having regard to this finding, the Court considered it unnecessary to examine separately, in particular, whether the reasons given by the national courts for his continued detention had been based on relevant and sufficient grounds, as required by Article 5 § 3.
Article 5 § 4
Mr Mammadov’s detention had been ordered and extended, on each occasion, by courts at two levels of jurisdiction. However, the courts had consistently failed to verify the reasonableness of the suspicion against him. They had repeatedly ignored Mr Mammadov’s submissions in this regard, notably his argument that there were no reasons to believe that he would abscond and that he had voluntarily appeared before the prosecution as soon as he had been asked to do so. The national courts had simply copied the prosecution’s written submissions and used short, vague and stereotyped formulae for rejecting his complaints. The Court therefore considered that there had been no genuine review of the lawfulness of Mr Mammadov’s detention, which was sufficient to conclude that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 4.
Article 6 § 2
As regards the press statement issued by the Prosecutor General and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Court noted that, given that Mr Mammadov was a politician, it might have been considered reasonable for the authorities to keep the public informed of the criminal accusations against him.
However, the Court considered that the statement, assessed as a whole, had not been made with the necessary discretion. Whereas the relevant paragraph concluded by stating that Mr Mammadov’s actions would be “fully and thoroughly investigated” and would “receive legal assessment”, this wording was contradicted by a preceding unequivocal declaration, in the same sentence, that those actions had been “illegal”. Moreover, in the same paragraph it was stated that it had been “established” that he had called on local residents to resist the police.
Having regard to the statement’s wording as a whole, it could only have encouraged the public to believe that Mr Mammadov was guilty before he had been proved guilty under the law. There had accordingly been a violation of Article 6 § 2.
The Court had already found that the charges against Mr Mammadov had not been based on a “reasonable suspicion” for the purpose of Article 5 § 1. It could be concluded from this finding that the authorities had not acted in good faith. As the Court had found under Article 5 § 1, it was significant that Mr Mammadov was an opposition politician with a history of criticising the Government, and he had nothing to do with the original incident of 23 January 2013 which had triggered the protests in Ismayilli.
Moreover, the Court considered that his arrest was linked to specific entries in his blog, in particular that of 28 January 2013, in which he shed light on information which the Government had attempted to withhold from the public. He had first been asked to appear for questioning by the prosecutor after publishing that statement. Those circumstances indicated that the actual purpose of the measures taken had been to silence or punish Mr Mammadov for criticising the Government and attempting to disseminate what he believed to be true information which the Government was trying to hide.
The Court therefore concluded that the restriction of Mr Mammadov’s liberty had been applied for purposes other than bringing him before a competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence. This was a sufficient basis for finding that there had been a violation of Article 18 in conjunction with Article 5.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The court held that Azerbaijan was to pay Mr Mammadov 20,000 euros (EUR) in respect of nonpecuniary damage and EUR 2,000 in respect of costs and expenses.
The judgment is available only in English.
This press release is a document produced by the Registry. It does not bind the Court. Decisions, judgments and further information about the Court can be found on www.echr.coe.int. To receive the Court’s press releases, please subscribe here: www.echr.coe.int/RSS/en or follow us on Twitter @ECHRpress.
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The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.
OSCE (15.05.2014) – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović today said she was outraged by the lengthy prison sentence handed down to journalist Parviz Hashimli, yet more proof of the deteriorating Azerbaijani media freedom environment.
“I am appalled by today’s court decision,” Mijatović said. “I call on the authorities to stop locking up members of the media to silence them.”
Hashimli, a journalist with the newspaper Bizim Yol, was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of smuggling and illegal storage and sale of firearms. During the investigation Hashimli repeatedly reported about harassment and ill-treatment.
“There are now more than 10 members of the media in prison in Azerbaijan, convicted or awaiting trial, which is the highest number in that country my Office has observed since it was established,” Mijatović said. “This troubling trend discourages investigative journalism and contributes to a climate of threat and intimidation.”
Among the journalists recently sentenced in Azerbaijan are Nijat Aliyev, editor-in-chief of the azadxeber.org news website, to 10 years in prison on various charges, including drug possession and incitement of hatred; Sardar Alibeyli, editor-in-chief of P.S. Nota newspaper, to four years on charges of hooliganism; and Rashad Ramazanov, an independent blogger, to nine years on charges of illegal storage and sale of drugs.
Abdul Abilov and Omar Mamedov, online activists and bloggers known for their views that are critical of the authorities, are currently facing trial on charges of illegal storage and sale of drugs. Rauf Mirkadyrov, a journalist with the newspaper Zerkalo, was recently arrested on charges of high treason.
Mijatović also noted the continued harassment of Khadija Ismayilova, a journalist with RFE/RL, including her recent summoning in a criminal investigation regarding the alleged leaking of state secrets.
In addition, the Representative received reports that on 14 May Laurent Richard and Emmanuel Bach, French journalists with Premieres Lignes, were detained by law enforcement agencies at Baku airport, had their records seized and were forced to leave the country without their records. Richard and Bach covered the official visit of the French President François Hollande to Azerbaijan and also prepared reports on the economic and human rights situation in the country.
Institute for Peace and Democracy (13.05.2014) – Videos concerning the arrests of Arif Yunus and Leyla Yunus
Appeal of Leyla Yunus in English
OSCE (07.05.2014) – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović today condemned attacks on journalists covering public protests in Baku on 6-7 May.
“These journalists were just performing their duty covering public protests when they were attacked,” Mijatović said. “This latest act of violence against members of the media contributes to an already alarming media freedom situation in Azerbaijan.”
On 6 May Etimad Budagov, a journalist with Turan news agency, was assaulted by police officers and. Mahammad Turkmen of the Yeni Musavat newspaper, Khalid Garayev of the Azadliq newspaper and Amid Suleymanov from the Mediaforum website were detained by law enforcement agencies. Police also tried to detain Parvana Bairamova of the Turan news agency and a contributor to Voice of America radio station.
On 7 May Huseyn Azizoglu, a journalist with Obyektiv TV, was attacked by an unidentified person in the presence of police while covering a related court hearing against protesters. Azizoglu was injured and his camera was damaged.
“Law enforcement agencies are responsible for protecting members of the media and it is unacceptable when they attack or solicit attacks on journalists,” Mijatović said. “I hope these incidents will be subject to a swift and transparent investigation.”
Mijatović is in Istanbul participating in an international conference
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media observes media developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. She provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and promotes full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments. Learn more at www.osce.org/fom, Twitter: @OSCE_RFoM and on facebook.com/osce.rfom.
Institute for Peace and Democracy (04.05.2014) - The Grave Offense Department of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan has established a Special Investigation Group headed by Eldar Ahmedov, 3rd Class State Counselor of Justice, investigators Parviz Ibayev, Ibrahim Lemberanski, Sanan Pashayev, etc. The group targets to frame up a case to accuse Rauf Mirgadirov, Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunusov of high treason and espionage for Armenia. Rauf Mirgadirov is an honored journalist of Azerbaijan and a Gerd Bucerius International Prize Winner. Leyla Yunus is Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour and Winner of the International Theodor-Haecker-Prize.
Historian ArifYunusov has authored 8 monographs and over 230 articles.
With this aim in mind the officers of the Prosecutor’s Office go beyond the law of Azerbaijan, the international law, rules of morality.
Sh. Hasanova, Judge of Nasimi District Court of Baku city, gave an unlawful ruling to arrest Rauf Mirgadirov, illegally extradited from Turkey and arrested on April 19. He is under a 3-month-arrest. The Prosecutor’s Office did not present any proof of his guilt.
On April 28 Leyla and Arif Yunusov were detained in the airport while trying to fly to Brussels at the invitation of the European Endowment for Democracy. When detained their passports were taken away, they were searched, their laptop and personal documents were seized. On April 28 starting from 22.00 pm till 04.00 am on April 29 the Yunusovs were unlawfully detained without presenting any document to state a reason of detainment and a search warrant. Lawyer Khalid Bagirov, who came to the airport, was not let in.
The investigators of the Prosecutor’s Office further acted exactly as did the Gestapo of Hitler’s Germany and the NKVD of Stalin’s USSR. They pushed them into the car using force and brought them to their residence place. Having not presented a search warrant, they demand that the Yunusovs open the apartment. Around 40 police and secret service officers gathered outside.
Having not stood up to stress, Arif Yunusov began to black out. But investigator Lemberanski refused to allow the ambulance to take Arif Yunusov to hospital. Only after 30 minutes thanks to the demands of the persistent journalists Arif Yunusov was taken to hospital where he was immediately put into intensive care unit.
The officers kept on maltreating Leyla Yunus. His violence against the 59-year-old woman Chief of Yasamal District Police Department of Baku city, Colonel Ismail Asadov fully excused saying to the journalists, ‘She is not Azeri! She is Armenian! And she deserves to be treated exactly like that – to be beaten and raped …’
Leyla Yunus was kept continuously under arrest for more than 26 hours. Neither proof of guilt, nor arrest warrant was presented.
Appeal of Leyla
«My grandmother was ethnic German. In 1941 her family was sent into exile to Kazakhstan, where none of them survived. All her life long she concealed her ethnicity and maiden surname. She was so badly scared that even in 1986 before she died she did not answer my question about her mother’s name.
My husband’s mother was ethnic Armenian. She died long ago. But when she was alive, her family carefully covered up her ethnicity.
Down with Nazism!! Nazism which dwelled in the minds of people and brings horrible harvest: the pro-governmental mass media smear my family and friends saying that I am a ‘mongrel’, ‘Russian-speaking’, ‘Armenian’ ….
All her life my mother was afraid to tell that her mother was German, and now my daughter is afraid to tell that her grandmother is Armenian…
Fostering hatred to another nation, where dirty politicians took aboard citizens of almost all post-Soviet republics, is the worst deed of horror of today.
I have sacrificed my life to struggle for human rights. In 2012 I and my colleague in Armenia launched the unique joint Azerbaijani-Armenian website-platform for peaceful dialogue to reach understanding and break enmity.
My activities are obviously very efficient, as today the Prosecutor’s Office is instructed to frame up a case, imprison and kill in prison.
I am an elderly woman, 150 cm tall, and stand proud that ALL the criminal mechanism of the criminal power in Azerbaijan is mobilized to destroy me.
There are people and unpeople. The real men are my grandfather Teymur Useynov, one of the creators of the Azerbaijani cinematograph, and his colleague Amo Beknazarov, whose name is born by the film studio in Yerevan. The unpeople are torturing and beating to death in prison cells.
I am not afraid of death, I am not afraid of prison. I stand proud that I have turned to be dangerous for the corrupt criminal regime, which occupied my motherland Azerbaijan…
Yes, like other mothers I also want to hope that my husband will survive and my daughter will not lose her dad and mom ….
FOR OUR AND YOUR FREEDOM!!
IRFS (04.05.2014) - Today is UNESCO World Press Freedom Day, and Azerbaijani journalist Rauf Mirkadirov is in the custody of the Ministry of National Security, facing what rights group say are fantastic, trumped-up espionage charges.
May 3, 2014, Baku - On the International Press Freedom Day,a tribute to silenced writers and publications, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) calls on Azerbaijani government to immediately stop its unprecedented crackdown on independent media, and to foster an environment that respects the rights of all citizens to freedom of expression.
The call comes as one of Azerbaijan's prominent journalists, Rauf Mirkadirov, a political commentator with the independent daily Ayna/ Zerkalo, has been arrested on fantastic charges of foreign espionage after his forced deportation from Turkey. It was right after Mirkadirov’s arrest when a squad of plainclothes police officers arrived at the office of the Ayna/ Zerkalo newspaper. They conducted a search, set upon the computers before taking them away. Taken were files that chronicled newspaper’s work for at least 15-16 years.
Press freedom in Azerbaijan is alarming, with repressive legislation and increased hostility towards critical press from the government. The country holds the regional record for locking up journalists, leaving Belarus, Russia and Uzbekistan scrabbling in the dust, with ten reporters and seven free speech activists behind bars.
Azadliq newspaper has shown the courage to report on issues which push the executive to account, despite the repercussions that they know this entails. Azadliq has undergone many attacks and their journalists have faced continuous threats. The recent refusal by the State Mass Media Support Fund to continue funding Azadliq’s project and April 30 decision of Azerbaijan Press Council on issuance of a warning to the newspaper for alleged breach of ethical rules are continuation of the government intention to render the newspaper dysfunctional. Despite this, Azadliq continues to report on government corruption and cronyism.
Human rights defenders who have sought to speak out about the crackdown on the international stage have been especially targeted. One of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights defenders, Leyla Yunus was detained on April 28 at Baku airport and brought to General Prosecutor office for interrogation. She was questioned by prosecutors and released after nine hours, while her husband was hospitalized in a pre-stroke condition.Her home and office were searched.
The authorities seem increasingly reluctant to improve its international rating in terms of the level of freedom the press enjoys. Ranking still very poor (156th out of 179) in the Press Freedom Index, yearly compiled by the international organization Reporters Without Borders, Azerbaijan has a notoriety as the 'choker' of the free press, despite of local survey results crowning the president as a friend of the press, which might be motivated by gift apartments distributed to media workers last year.
On this World Press Freedom Day, IRFS calls upon the government of Azerbaijan to recognize the vital role of a free press and take the necessary steps to create environment in which independent journalists can operate freely and without fear.IRFS calls on Azerbaijani authorities to repeal all laws and policies which criminalize and restrict the invaluable work of journalists, bloggers and free speech activists. Media have the right to, and Azerbaijan has the obligation to provide, a safe and enabling environment for their work.
for Peace and Democracy
Institute for Peace and Democracy (20.04.2014) - The charge brought against Rauf Mirkadirov, a renowned investigative journalist of the leading Russian-language newspaperZerkalo, under Article 274 of the AR Criminal Code (high treason and espionage, term of punishment from 10 years in prison till life term) evidently signifies the rule of repressions of the authoritarian regime and the total ban to public diplomacy and any other contacts with the civil society of Armenia.
Rauf Mirkadirov actively participated in the numerous joint projects between the Institute for Peace and Democracy and Armenian NGOs, many times visited Armenia both together with our staff and alone.
During three years R. Mirkadirov lived and worked in Ankara as a Zerkalo journalist accredited in Turkey. He regularly wrote analytical articles on the front page and, in the meantime, participated in the Azerbaijani-Armenian public diplomacy projects.
Azerbaijan has the obligations on peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict to the CoE. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group keep on calling for intensification of public diplomacy (suffice it to recall the recent statements of James Warlick, the US Co-Chair of Minsk Group, necessitating such contacts) and revival of contacts between the civil societies of the two countries. Given the fact that the efforts of the official authorities have yielded no peace-making results within 20 years after the cease-fire was signed, and the fact that the two countries are intensifying propaganda of a foreign dangerous enemy, the efforts of civil society activists for cooperation are highly important. The importance of such efforts is comprehended by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Germany), the British and Polish Embassies in Armenia and Azerbaijan, the EU and other international organizations and foundations supporting the joint Azerbaijani-Armenian projects. The EU has recently initiated the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK), the initiative combining efforts of 5 international organizations (Conciliation Resources, Crisis Management Initiative, International Alert, the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and LINKS). EPNK mainly focuses on transformation of the Karabakh conflict through a number of peace-making endeavors, including meetings and projects of the two nations (for more information visit www.epnk.org).
After President Ilham Aliyev had risen to power, it became impossible for NGOs to hold conferences in Azerbaijan with participation of Armenian colleagues. Over the past 10 years the joint meetings have become possible only outside Azerbaijan, particularly in Armenia.
The treason and espionage charges brought against investigative journalist Rauf Mirkadirov, the active participant of conferences in Armenia and the projects implemented jointly with Armenian NGOs, are putting an end to visits of the civil society activists of Azerbaijan to Armenia and to enhancement of public diplomacy and civil society in Azerbaijan.
Dr. Leyla Yunus
Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour
Winner of the International Theodor-Haecker-Prize
Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy
P.S. R. Mirkadirov is now kept in the Pretrial Detention Facility of the Ministry of National Security. The investigation is conducted by Ibrahim Lemberanski, an investigator of the Criminal Investigation Department for Grave Crimes of the General Prosecutor’s Office. R. Mirkadirov was detained right after he came off the plane from Turkey at 17.00 on April 19, 2014, on Saturday. He is deprived of the possibility to see his lawyer Fuad Agayev till Monday.
IRFS (01.04.2014) - We, the Civil Society of Azerbaijan, strongly condemn the detention on fabricated charges of our colleague, head of the "Intelligent Citizen" Awareness Center, Hasan Huseynli and call for his immediate release.
Mr. Huseynli, 57 years old, was detained yesterday, March 31 at around 18:00, as a suspect on charge of hooliganism for allegedly stabbing another person.
Working in the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Gandja, Hasan Huseynli is the most well-known and active member of Azerbaijani civil society in the western region of the country.
As the head of the "Intelligent Citizen" Enlightenment Center, established in 2004, Huseynli has been known for promotion of open society, human rights and democracy ideas in the western part of Azerbaijan and implementation of programs on enlightenment of the youth and their participation in study abroad programs. With support of donors such as USAID, Peace Corps, Baku Education Information Center, Open Society Institute, European Commission, British Embassy, SILBA, ALDA, Visegrad, Robert Bosch Foundation and so on, the "Intelligent Citizen" Awareness Center has carried out more than 20 successful projects.
The local governor has waged pressure campaign against the "Intelligent Citizen" Awareness Center and its director Hasan Huseynli in the recent years. Throughout Azerbaijan, the NGOs increasingly face multiple challenges implementing their work, working with local people and even holding conferences, seminars or trainings in closed places.
Despite of such illegal bans, the "Intelligent Citizen" Awareness Center has served as a resource center for fellow NGOs from the capital and other regions of Azerbaijan, supporting implementation of their projects. That is why it has become the target of the local authorities.
Huseynli's case bears striking similarity to that of journalists Ganimat Zahid and Serdar Alibayli, activist Yadigar Sadigov and bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade who were arrested on the false hooliganism charges.
We consider Hasan Huseynli's detention to be part of a larger clampdown on civil society in the wake of presidential election. This crackdown was kicked off in November 2013 with legal actions against Anar Mammadli, head of the Azerbaijani election watchdog Elections Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, and excessive tightening of NGO legislation. The politically-motivated sentencing of two other activists, Ilgar Mammadov and Tofig Yagublu, to 7 and 5 years in jail respectively is yet another evidence of the crackdown.
Detention of NGO leaders on false charges and the rise in persecutions following the draconian NGO amendments represent violation of the Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of assembly and of association) and the obligations of Azerbaijan undertaken before the Council of Europe.
Coming less than two month to go before Azerbaijan's assumes its first Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, this arrest once again demonstrates Azerbaijan's reluctance to protect fundamental rights and freedoms.
We call on the Azerbaijani government to free our colleague Hasan Huseynli and the civil society activists detained or convicted on trumped-up charges, to respect human rights values and duly fulfill its international human rights obligations and commitments.
April 01, 2014
1. Akif Gurbanov, Democratic Initiatives Institute
2. Arzu Abdullayeva, Helsinki Citizens Assembly - Azerbaijan
3. Asabali Mustafayev, Democracy and Human Rights Resource Center
4. Aytəkin Imranova, Islam, Democracy and Human Rights Center
5. Anar Orujov, Caucasus Media Investigations Center
6. Aslan Ismayilov, lawyer
7. Azer Mehtiyev, Public Union For Economic Initiatives
8. Avaz Hasanov, Society for Humanitarian Research
9. Aynur Bashirova, Media expert
10. Aynur Imranova, Support for Development of Democracy and Media
11. Bashir Suleymanli, Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center
12. Elchin Abdullayev, Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Public Union
13. Elchin Mammad, Social Union of Legal Education of Sumgait Youth
14. Elchin Hasanov, Rights advocate
15. Elman Abbasov, Rights advocate
16. Elnur Malikov, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
17. Eldeniz Vahidbeyli, lawyer
18. Emin Huseynov, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
19. Fuad Hasanov, Democracy Monitor
20. Gulnara Akhundova, Rights advocate
21. Gubad Ibadoglu, Economic Researches Center
22. Hafiz Hasanov, Law and Development Public Association
23. Jasur Mammadov, Doctrine Journalists’ Military Research Center
24. Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, Rights advocate
25. Intigam Aliyev, Legal Education Society
26. Vugar Bayramov, Center for Economic and Social Development
27. Khalid Kazimov, Regional Human Rights and Media Center
28. Leila Alieva, Center for National and International Studies
29. Letafet Malikova, Regional Human Rights and Education Public Association
30. Matanat Azizova, Woman Crisis Center
31. Mehriban Zeynalova, Clean World
32. Mubariz Tagiyev, Human Rights in Extractive Industries Public Union
33. Novella Jafarova, Association for Protection of Women’s Rights, on behalf of D. Aliyeva
34. Nasrulla Nurullayev, Chairman, Care for the elderly intellectuals
35. Rafik Tamrazov, Center of Equal Opportunities
36. Rashid Hacili, Media Rights Institute
37. Rashad Shirin, Political Analyst
38. Rasul Jafarov, Legal Protection and Awareness Society
39. Ruhangiz Huseynova, Solidarity Among Women
40. Rovshan Agayev, Center Support for Economic initiatives
41. Saadet Bananyarli, Azerbaijan Section of the International Organization on Human Rights
42. Sabit Bagirov, Entrepreneurship Development Foundation
43. Saida Gojamanli, Azerbaijan Bureau on Human Rights and Law
44. Samir Aliyev, Center For Support For Economic Initiatives
45. Shahin Hajiyev, Najaf Najafov Fund
46. Shahla Ismayil, Women's Association for Rational Development
47. Shahin Nasrullayev, Rights advocate
48. Farman Nabiyev, Mingechevir Media Center
49. Ziya Guliyev, Center for Legal Initiatives
50. Zohrab Ismayil, Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy
IRFS (18.03.2014) - The today’s conviction of Ilgar Mammadov and Tofig Yagublu further tarnished the country's veneer of democracy ahead of its chairmanship in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) warned.
Today, the Shaki District Court sentenced politician Ilgar Mammadov and journalist Tofig Yagublu to 7 years and 5.6 years in prison under the Articles 220.1 and 315.2 of the Criminal Code (inciting violent riots). IRFS considers 13.5 months detention of Mammadov and Yagublu and today’s verdict to be a breach of international standards and calls for the appeals court to overturn their conviction and release them immediately.
"The shameful conviction of Mammadov and Yagublu is not befitting of a country that will assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe (CoE) in less than two months," said IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov. “It is disappointing to see that at a moment when Azerbaijan should be proving its commitment to human rights, these convictions send out quite the opposite message. It is the CoE credibility which is on the line now."
Yagublu, columnist of Yeni Musavat newspaper and deputy chairman of Musavat Party, and Mammadov, Chairman of Republican Alternative (REAL) Political Movement whose nomination in the latest presidential election was declined by the Central Election Commission, were arrested on 4 February 2013. They were accused of inciting violent anti-government riots on 23-24 January 2013 in Ismayili when people took to the streets protesting social injustice and power abuse.
Yagublu and Mammadov assert that they went to Ismayilli to get firsthand information about the causes of the protests. Moreover, when they arrived in Ismayilli on 24 January 2013, the demonstrations were about to cease.
Ilgar Mammadov is one of the first persons, who challenged incumbent president Ilham Aliyev's eligibility for a third term in office. Yagublu, in his turn, says he might be revenged for casting doubt on the truthfulness of the statement of the General Prosecutor Office on the Oil Academy killings case.
Mammadov and Yagublu are in a row of the latest targets of an escalating government crackdown on the critical voice in Azerbaijan. Right now, there are 9 journalists, 3 human rights defenders and 5 free speech activists in detention or imprisoned for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
IRFS calls on the government of Azerbaijan to reverse this disturbing trend and carry out the reforms it promised. The first step should be to release and drop charges against all journalists, bloggers, free speech activists and human rights defenders who are currently under investigation or are serving prison time.
IRFS calls on the Council of Europe as such, as well as individual member states, not to turn a blind eye to the human rights crisis in Azerbaijan and denounce the serious and persistent breaches of fundamental human rights and freedoms in this country.
IRFS condemns the authorities of Azerbaijan for having unjustifiably failed to fulfill Azerbaijan’s human rights obligations before the Council of Europe.
IRFS calls on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to take a tougher line with member states that fail to fulfill obligations. If member states are allowed to get away with blatant violations and fail to comply with the Council of Europe rules and treaties the organization, as such, loses both respect and influence.
IRFS (04.03.2014) - Today, on 4 March 2014, the Committee of Ministers starts its regular human rights meeting in Strasbourg where, among others, it will discuss how Azerbaijan implements two European Court judgments Mahmudov and Agazade v Azerbaijan and Fatullayev v Azerbaijan.
In both cases, ECtHR found that by imprisoning journalists under defamation charges, Azerbaijan violated Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights (right to freedom of expression).
As a part of implementation process, the government of Azerbaijan promised to make needed reforms and adopt a new law on defamation to better protect media freedom.
In January this year, before the meeting in Strasbourg, the government of Azerbaijan provided its action plan what has already been done and what it plans to do in that regard. The full text in English can be found at
As a response to that, a coalition of Azerbaijan human rights organizations, Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, Media Rights Institute and Legal Education Society, in cooperation with the International Media Support, presented their own comments on the steps taken by the government of Azerbaijan.
Among others, civil society raised concern about the lack of legislative reforms with the aim to decriminalize defamation by the authorities and the increasing number of journalists and bloggers imprisoned under fabricated charges, such as hooliganism, drug possession, weapons possession and others.
The full text in Azerbaijani and English can be found here: http://www.irfs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/NGO-communication-Mahmudov-group-CM-March-2014-meeting-.pdf
After the discussions at its meeting on 4-6 March 2014, the Committee of Ministers will adopt a decision on the two cases against Azerbaijan with its recommendations to the government.
The Committee of Ministers is the political body of the Council of Europe, consisting of representatives of 47 countries, that is responsible for supervision of implementation of ECtHR judgments by member states. Such meetings are held four times a year where cases involving structural systemic problems in the national system are being discussed.
Letter to the CoE by Media Rights Institute (MRI), the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and the Legal Education Society, in collaboration with the International Media Support (IMS)
Secretary to the Committee of Ministers
Council of Europe
Avenue de l’Europe
67075 Strasbourg Cedex
25 February 2014
RE: NGO comments to Azerbaijani Government’s response to CM on Mahmudov and Agazade v. Azerbaijan and Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan cases
CM human rights meeting on 4-6 March 2014
We, the Baku-based Media Rights Institute (MRI), the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and the Legal Education Society, in collaboration with the International Media Support (IMS) would like to address the Committee of Ministers with regard to the latest developments in the cases of the Mahmudov group against Azerbaijan that are to be discussed at the upcoming CM meeting on 4-6 March 2014. All signatory organizations focus on media freedom in Azerbaijan and have been closely following the situation in that regard.
On 3 January 2014, the Government of Azerbaijan (GA) submitted its response to the questions provided by the Committee of Ministers, as well as the updated action plan of 13 January 2014, in respective cases. We therefore would like to comment on the information provided by GA as to the progress made in terms of execution of above mentioned judgments, given the dire freedom of expression situation in the country.
The following Committee of Ministers questions are hereby addressed:
1. What measures have been taken or are envisaged in order to ensure that relevant legislation is applied in conformity with the Convention?
2. Are the Azerbaijani authorities planning to continue cooperation with the Venice Commission and take its recommendations into consideration before adopting the new law?
The delegation reiterated that the Court’s judgments had a great impact on the national judicial practice. In both cases, the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) denounced the imprisonment of journalists as a sanction for defamation and found it in violation of the right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights. Soon after, GA has taken the initiative for reforming the regulation on defamation.
GA specifically mentioned in its reply that the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan, following the ECtHR judgments, made a decision to quash the decision against the applicants. Moreover, it was said that on 11 November 2010, the Supreme Court, held a plenary where the judges of the Supreme Court, the appellate courts, first instance courts and the representatives of the Prosecutor Office examined the judicial practice in terms of applications of criminal law provisions on libel and insult. The civil society and lawyers are not aware of such discussions – to our knowledge, the plenum has only reviewed the sentence of the applicant Eynulla Fatullayev and quashed the initial decision, following the ECtHR judgment.
The Plenum of the Supreme Court has in fact the authority to adopt special commentaries on the court practice on application of national laws for national courts (Article 79 of the Law On Courts and Judges). On 14 May 1999, the Supreme Court has made a commentary “On the practice of application of laws regulating of protection of honor and dignity by courts”. The national courts widely refer to the respective commentary in consideration of cases on criminal and civil defamation. The Commentary, however, is not in line with the freedom of expression standards developed by ECtHR and should be revised.
In its letter, GA has reiterated that several measures have been taken to ensure the independence of judicial system, including the revision and improvement of the laws regulating activity of courts. As a result, the Judicial – Legal Council has been established with the aim to ensure that external interference with the independence of activities of judges and courts is prevented. Moreover, Judges Selection Committee has been created and the rules on selection of candidates for judge positions were adopted.
The structure and the management of the two bodies, however, raise many concerns in terms of their independence from the executive power. The Minister of Justice is the Chairman of the Judicial – Legal Council. Majority of 15 members of the Council are appointed by the executive power. Such selection procedure in itself contradicts the Law on Courts and Judges, which defines the Council as the self-governance body of judicial power. Other members are being appointed by the Supreme Court, the Collegium of Advocates, Association of judges; however, no information is available on how the whole process is being conducted, including the nomination and appointment of candidates. The civil society has on several occasions attempted to receive the respective information; all the efforts have led to a failure.
The new rules on selection of judges raise many concerns about the transparency and neutrality of the whole selection mechanism. First of all, the Judges Selection Committee is established by the Judicial-Legal Council. Chairmen of the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal and the Court of Grave Crimes are appointed directly by the President of Azerbaijan, without any consultations or approval of any other state body. All other judges are nominated by the President and approved by the Parliament. Such a procedure raises serious doubts about the independence of judiciary from the executive power in Azerbaijan.
GA also refers to the increase of number of judges in the judicial system. We, however, do not see how such an increase could strengthen the independence of judiciary.
GA has also referred to the ongoing development of the Action plan between GA and the Council of Europe, which, as stated, includes a number of activities on freedom of expression and media freedom. We express our great disappointment that civil society is not involved in the process of developing a plan on how to improve the media freedom situation in the country.
We would like to remind the Committee of Ministers that initially the Government of Azerbaijan has committed itself to elaborate “on the proposals on improving the legislation in order to decriminalize defamation” (Article 1.2.7. the National Programme for Action to Raise Effectiveness of Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms adopted in December 2011). Soon after, the dialogue with the Venice Commission was initiated in that regard, and the Venice Commission produced its opinion on the draft Law on the Protection Against Defamation in Azerbaijan Defamation Law on 14 October 2013.
The Venice Commission concluded that ‘the Draft Law is, in many respects, not in line with the applicable ECHR principles and case law and fails to ensure adequate implementation of the country’s obligations in this field. Moreover, it seems to have been prepared in complete isolation from other parts of domestic law and no progress has been made towards decriminalizing defamation.’
The Venice Commission particularly considers it essential:
· to ensure that regulations dealing with defamation are formulated in a way that prevents unduly severe rules and sanctions and is of the view that strong and effective remedies - while proportionate - can be provided through civil law.
· A comprehensive and consistent approach - development of strong and efficient civil law provisions, coupled with the removal/substantial amendment of the relevant criminal provisions -is necessary to ensure the compatibility of the legislation with the requirements of the ECHR".
We are particularly dismayed by the fact that the provisions stipulating the repeal of the Criminal Code provisions providing for heavy penalties for defamation, including imprisonment, and limiting the amount of compensation for damage caused by defamation have been removed from the defamation bill submitted to the Venice Commission.
Moreover, in May 2013, amendments to the Criminal Code extended its application on online content, which runs contrary to the above-mentioned commitments. The Committee of Ministers deeply regretted that" while the co-operation process with the Venice Commission was on-going, on 14 May 2013 the Parliament of Azerbaijan adopted amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences of Azerbaijan that impose criminal penalties for defamation and insult on the Internet". The first conviction was already handed down in July 2013, later overruled by the Appeal Court and the accused was acquitted.
As stated by the Venice Commission in its opinion, "it finds it worrying that, in spite of the authorities’ repeatedly stated commitment to work towards decriminalization of defamation in co-operation with the Venice Commission, defamation is still associated with excessively high criminal sanctions, including imprisonment".
We therefore consider steps taken by the Azerbaijani authorities as insufficient to ensure that the national legislation would be in conformity to the Convention standards. We ask you to encourage the government of Azerbaijan to continue its dialogue with the Venice Commission and take its recommendations into consideration before adopting the new law on defamation.
3. Can the Azerbaijani authorities confirm that presently there is a de facto moratorium on the imposition of prison sentences for defamation in accordance with the Court’s case law, namely, in the absence of incitement to violence or hate speech?
We highly appreciate the fact that no convictions leading to imprisonment for defamation charges have been made in 2011-2013. We however would like to address that despite the unofficial moratorium, high officials continue the practice of claims with criminal defamation charges against critics, which has a strong chilling effect on media. In 2013 only, 3 claims for criminal prosecution against media and imprisonment were initiated:
· Minister of Internal Affairs Ramil Usubov and Minister of Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov demanded for arrest of Ganimat Zahid, editor-in-chief of the main opposition newspaper “Azadlig”; the claims followed the article published by the newspaper about the existing conflict between the two ministers. The case has received a lot of attention of international organizations and international community. After the public apology, the ministers withdrew their claims.
· Head of Imishli district executive power Vilyam Hajiyev demanded for arrest of Nasimi Sharafkhanli – editor-in-chief of newspaper “Gundam Khabar” and the Principal, supported by a group of staff of Baku State University demanded the arrest of Anar Hasanli – editor of “Hurriyat” newspaper based on criminal charges on slander and insult. The case was dismissed at a later stage.
We fully understand the need for protection against any humiliating content and protection of privacy including online. We are however very concerned that in reality this has resulted in the excessive application of such legal provisions to journalists, bloggers and social media activists who are critical towards the Azerbaijani authorities.
Given that the Azerbaijani government has publicly stated not to be willing to decriminalize defamation for the above-mentioned purposes, but however considers eliminating imprisonment as a sanction, as stated in its recent letter to CM, we respectfully urge you to call upon the Azerbaijani government to eliminate the sanction of imprisonment for defamation from the Criminal Code, including defamation online.
4. What is the difference between a private and a criminal prosecution procedure? For instance, is there a difference in sanctioning? Can private prosecution also lead to a prison sentence?
According to the national legislation, claims under criminal defamation charges can only be brought under private prosecution procedure. In other words, such a claim can only be initiated by a victim. No public prosecution can be initiated under the same charges, except in cases of insult of the President or a flag, or in cases of hate speech.
In civil proceedings, only an individual who claims to be a victim can bring a complaint.
Private prosecution procedure can lead to a prison sentence, as indicated in the Criminal Code provisions on libel and insult (Articles 147 and 148).
5. Are there any other Internet-based cases since the first one the Committee discussed in September?
We welcome the acquittal of Mikail Talibov in the so called “Facebook” case. Earlier in 2013, Talibov, former employee of AccessBank, was convicted under criminal defamation charges for sharing critical information about the respective bank on Facebook site and sentenced to 1-year public labor and withholding of 20% of his monthly salary. On 24 January 2014, the Astara District Court re-examined the case after its referral by Shirvan Court of Appeals in November 2013 and made its final decision to acquit the defendant.
Previously, M.Talibov worked at AccessBank Closed Stock Company. He considered his dismissal from Accessbank to be illegal, complained to relevant bodies and created a Facebook page “Accessbank-Haqsizbank” (“Accessbank- Unfair bank”) where he harshly criticized the bank’s activity. The bank considered the page to contain libelous content and demanded the court to bring M.Talibov to justice for libel. The Astara District Court investigated the claim in accordance with the texts the prosecutor submitted from Facebook. The court concluded the expressions in the posts to be of libelous character: “Accessbank-Haqsizbank” (“Accessbank- Unfair bank”), “Against Azerbaijan with money earned by Azerbaijanis”, “Accessbank contributes to political tension, makes people discontent with the government”, “bank takes a kickback of 5.000 AZN for 50.000 AZN value deposit” and other similar expressions. The court considered M.Talibov guilty and charged him to 1-year public work, also withholding 20% of his monthly revenue. The court also ruled M.Talibov to give refutation in Facebook.
We however remain concerned about the extension of application of Articles 147 and 148 of the Criminal Code that stipulate criminal liability for libel and insult to online content in May 2013. Mikayil Talibov’s case was the first one where the provisions were applied. We strongly believe that existence of such provisions and potential imprisonment for criticism online has a severe chilling effect on critical voices expressing their views and therefore they should be repealed.
6. Imprisonment of journalists and bloggers on dubious charges not directly linked to their journalistic activities
The Media Rights Institute has previously informed the Committee of Ministers about the cases of detained and imprisoned journalists and bloggers in its communication of September 2013 and an updated letter to CM delegations before the CM human rights meeting in December 2013. In its response, the Azerbaijani government refers to the cases of 8 journalists and bloggers that the Media Rights Institute indicated in its September 2013 communication that was published on the CM website. By the time of CM meeting in December 2013, 4 more cases had been launched against journalists and bloggers on trumped up charges that were added in the NGO letter. One more case was launched in January 2014.
At present, 15 journalists and bloggers are detained and imprisoned on charges not directly linked to their journalistic/activism activities - however, as a mean of retaliation for their criticism. Bogus charges like hooliganism, bribery, tax evasion, weapon possession, public disorder are being brought against journalists, bloggers and other critical voices. (Please see the full list of all cases below in the letter).
In his July 2013 report on his visit to Azerbaijan, Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights expressed serious concern at “the apparent intensification of the practice of unjustified or selective criminal prosecution of journalists and others who express critical opinions.”
In its reply, GA specifically refers to cases of journalists Hilal Mammadov, NIjat Aliyev and Araz Guliyev (all three cases are described below) as the ones entailing criminal charges for hate speech and incitement to violence. It is noteworthy that initially all three journalists have been arrested under charges of drug possession and hooliganism respectively. Only later new charges linked to incitement to hatred were added, which causes strong concern that their imprisonment serves as retaliation for their publications.
GA also states that Tofig Yagublu is not a journalist or a blogger, but the Vice Chairman of the political party. Until his arrest, Tofig Yagublu has run the column at the Yeni Musavat newspaper and was often critical towards the governmental policies. In addition, he was the adviser of the Chairman of the oppositional Musavat political party.
We respectfully urge you to call upon the Azerbaijani government to immediately review all ongoing criminal prosecutions against journalists and bloggers, release those who are imprisoned unjustly and cease launching selective criminal prosecutions of its critics.
Emin HUSEYNOV, Chairman and CEO, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
Gulnara AKHUNDOVA, human rights advocate
Intigam ALIYEV, President, Legal Education Society
Rashid HAJILI, Chairman, Media Rights Institute
List of cases of journalists and bloggers imprisoned on bogus charges not directly linked to their journalistic/activism activities:
1.Khural Newspaper Chief Editor Avaz Zeynalli (charges of bribery, contempt of court and tax evasion) - sentenced to 9 years imprisonment
Avaz Zeynalli was arrested on October 28, 2011 following a lawsuit brought by MP Gulnara Ahmadova on October 19, 2011. The Anti-Corruption Office launched a criminal case against Zeynalli under article 311.3.3 (taking a large bribe) and article 311.3.4 (extortion). Later he was charged under article 306 (contempt of court) and article 213.1 (tax evasion). It is highly believed that the charges against Avaz Zeynalli are trumped-up and that he was arrested for his articles criticizing high-ranking state officials. In March 2013, he was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment.
2. Tolishy-Sado Newspaper Chief Editor Hilal Mammadov (charges of drug possession, high treason and incitement of hatred) – sentenced to 5 years imprisonment
Hilal Mammadov, Chief Editor of Tolishy-Sado Newspaper, was arrested on June 21, 2012 on charges of drug possession. A criminal case was filed against him under Article 234.4.3 of the Criminal Code (illegal possession of drugs). On 3 July, Mammadov faced new charges under Articles 274 (high treason) and 283 (incitement of national, racial, social and religious hatred, hostility, and ethnic discrimination). In September 2013, he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.
Prior to his arrest, Mr. Mammadov served as the chief editor of the Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), Azerbaijan’s only Talysh-language newspaper. Mr. Mammadov’s predecessor at the newspaper was himself imprisoned on espionage charges and died in 2009 after receiving a 10-year sentence. In his role as editor and activist, Mr. Mammadov spoke-out publicly in support of Talysh rights and was critical of what he considered a government that discriminates against non-Turkic minority groups in Azerbaijan.
3. Chief Editor of www.azadxeber.com News Website Nijat Aliyev (charges of drug possession, distribution of religious literature without authorization, appeal to violent capture of authority and incitement of hostility) – sentenced to 10 years imprisonment
Nijat Aliyev was arrested on May 20, 2012 under charges of illegal possession of drugs in a quantity beyond the one for personal use. Human rights organizations believe that Aliyev was arrested for his criticism of government policies on issues including religion, LGBT rights, and high expenditures for the Eurovision Song Contest. On January 26th, new charges were brought against Aliyev under three Articles of the Criminal Code: 220.127.116.11 (import, sale and distribution of religious literature, religious items and other informational materials of religious nature with the aim of reproduction, sale and distribution without appropriate authorization), 281.2 (making appeals to violent capture of authority, violent deduction of authority or violent change of constitutional grounds or infringement of territorial integrity of the Azerbaijan Republic, as well as distribution of materials of such contents) and 283.2.3 (Incitement of national, racial or religious hostility, humiliation of national honor, as well as discrimination of citizens based on their national, racial or religious background committed publicly or with use of mass media). In December 2013, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
4. Director of Xeber44.com News Website, Araz Guliyev (charges of possession of firearms, public disorder, incitement of animosity, resistance to public official and insulting national flag) – sentenced to 8 years imprisonment
In April 2013, Araz Guliyev, the editor of the Islamist news website Xeber44, was sentenced to 8 years in prison under charges of illegal possession of fire arms, violation of public order, incitement of national, racial, ethnic or religious animosity and hostility, resistance and violence against a representative of the authority and insulting the national flag or emblem of the Azerbaijan Republic. Guliyev was initially arrested on hooliganism charges on September 8, 2012, while reporting on a protest in the southeastern city of Masally. The rally was staged by residents protesting dancers at a festival who they perceived to be not properly clothed, news reports said. Police arrested the protesters who were calling on the festival organizers to respect religious traditions.
5.Freelance Journalist Faramaz Novruzoglu (charges of mass disorder and illegal crossing of frontier) – sentenced to 4,5 years imprisonment
Faramaz Novruzoglu was arrested in April 2012, after criticizing the authorities on social media and calling on people to protest. Faramaz Novruzoglu was sentenced to 4.5 years in jail under charges of appeals to mass disorders and violence against citizens and crossing protected frontiers of the Azerbaijan Republic without established documents or outside of check point of frontier). Novruzoglu claims that his arrest is related to his articles "The whereabouts of Azerbaijani oil exported to Italy" and "Where do the candles imported from Russia go?" in which he was highly critical of the government.
6. Freelance Journalist Fuad Huseynov (hooliganism charges) – sentenced to 6,5 years imprisonment
Fuad Huseynov was arrested in October of 2010, after fighting and reporting illegal actions of employees of law-enforcement agencies and government in Ujar region. On September 26, 2011 Huseynov was sentenced to six and a half years in prison under Article 221.3 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism).
7. Yeni Musavat Newspaper Columnist Tofig Yagublu (charges of incitement of public disorder) – in detention
TofigYagublu was arrested on 4 February 2013, for allegedly attempting to undermine sociopolitical stability in Ismayilli region by calling on local people to resist the police and block the roads, during his visit to the region on January 24, 2013. He was sentenced to two months of pretrial detention on charges of organizing public disorder and resisting the representative of authorities or using violence against them. In April 2013, one of the previous two charges filed against Yagublu, organizing public disorder, was replaced by the charge of “organizing or participating in mass disorders accompanied by violence, looting, arson, destruction of property, application of fire-arms or explosives, or armed resistance against representative of authority” . Yagublu is currently held at Baku Investigative Prison.
8. Ilkin Rustamzade, blogger and online activist (hooliganism charges, organization of public disorder) – in detention
Ilkin Rustamzade, member of the “Free Youth” organization and online activist, was arrested on charges of hooliganism as well as disturbing public order on May 17, 2013. His arrest is connected with the “Harlem Shake” video posted on YouTube where he is accused of being involved in its organization, despite the fact that he is not present there. In September 2013, new charges have been brought against Ilkin Rustamzadeh under Article 220.1 (organization of mass disorders) of the Criminal Code and faces up to 12 years in prison.
9. Editor in Chief of newspaper Note Bone Serdar Alibeyli (hooliganism using a weapon charges) – sentenced to 4 years imprisonment
On 13 November 2013, Editor in Chief of newspaper Note Bone Serdar Alibeyli was sentenced to 4 years in prison following charges under Article 221.3 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism using a weapon or items used as a weapon). His imprisonment is considered illegal and politically motivated, following his critical publications targeting high-ranking officials in Azerbaijan. Moreover, the newspaper, being recently refused to be printed by the printing house, has ceased its circulation, while the online website remains available www.psnota.com. In 2010, Alibeyli has been imprisoned for criminal defamation charges.
10. Bizim Yol (Our Way) newspaper journalist Parviz Hashimli (charges of possession of firearms) – in detention
Parviz is a journalist of Bizim Yol newspaper, the director and editor of moderator.az news website and the Chairman of the Center for Protection of Political and Civil Rights, was detained on September 17 by employees of the Ministry of National Security. On September 18, 2013, the journalist was sentenced with a two-month pretrial detention under charges of smuggling of firearms on preliminary arrangement by an organized group and illegal obtaining, storing, carrying firearms and their spare parts on preliminary arrangement by an organized group. In early February 2014, new charges have been added - illegal purchase, transfer, selling, storage, transportation or carrying of firearms, accessories to it, supplies and explosives, committed repeatedly. The journalists reports about his ill-treatment in the custody.
11. Blogger Rashad Ramazanli (drug possession charges) – sentenced to 9 years imprisonment
On 13 November 2013, blogger Rashad Ramazanov, known for his critical views towards the Azerbaijani government, has been charged with suspicious drug possession and sentenced to 9 years imprisonment. The fact that Rashad Ramazanov was detained shortly after his sharply critical views against the government were shared in social networks in May 2013 casts doubts over legality of drug-related charges against him and provides grounds to believe that his detention serves as retaliation for his criticism. His lawyers also report that the blogger was tortured while in custody, was insulted by law enforcement official during custodian interrogation and tried to commit suicide due to his psychological condition.
12. Online activist Abdul Abilov (drug possession charges) – in detention
Online activist and administrator of the recently closed Facebook page “Let’s Say Stop to Flatterers” and another Facebook page „Electoral fraud”. Abdul Abilov was arrested on November 22 on charges of drug trafficking (article 234.4.3 of the Criminal Code). On 23 November, the Narimanov district court handed down 3-month pretrial detention sentence to the youth activist. Abdul was reportedly detained by the employees of the Department for Combating Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and asked why he had created that Facebook page, which has more than 5,000 followers, and influenced people. One day after Abdul Abilov’s arrest the said Facebook page was closed.
13. Blogger Omar Mammadov (drug possession charges) – in detention
Online activist and administrator of Facebook page “Extracts from AzTV” (government controlled state TV), very critical to government officials - which became very popular among Facebook users (tens of thousands of followers). On 6 February 2014, Omar Mammadov was arrested under drug possession charges.
14-15. Online activists Bakhtiyar Quliyev and Mammad Azizov (drug possession, illegal possession, carrying, transportation of firearms, explosives, and facilities and organization of public disorder charges) – in detention
Bakhtiyar Quliyev and MammadAzizovwere co-administrators of the government-critical Facebook page titled “Page for Heydar Aliyev”. Late Heydar Aliyev is the former president of Azerbaijan, the father of the incumbent president. Both activists were arrested on 7 March 2013 and charged for drug possession in big quantities, for possession of “Molotov cocktails” and organization of public disorder.
 Media Rights Institute’s individual communication on the cases to the Committee of Ministers can be found here
Para 117, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2013)024-e
 Ibid 3, para 120
The initiated draft law on defamation that was prepared by civil society and the OSCE Baku office and presented to the Presidential Administration for its consideration included the provisions decriminalizing defamation
Decision of the Committee of Ministers of 6 June 2013
On July 30, 2013, a Facebook user Mikayil Talibov was sentenced to a one-year public labor for his allegedly libelous Facebook posts under Article 147.1of the Criminal Code (slander) over his comments on the “Accessbank-Haqsizbank” (“Accessbank- Unfair bank”) Facebook page, whh he had created to criticize activities of the bank after being sacked from it. Media Rights Institute statement on the case
http://www.mediarights.az/index.php?lngs=eng&id=79. In January 2014, the District Court re-examined the case after its referral by the Court of Appeals and made its final decision to acquit the defendant.
 Ibid 3, para 119
Center for Legal Initiatives (18.12.2013) - We, a group of civil society members, are extremely concerned that Azerbaijani parliament approved restrictive amendments to the laws that govern the operations of non-governmental organizations [NGOs] in Azerbaijan. The approved amendments contain provisions that severely restrict the operations of NGOs, put in place cumbersome reporting obligations, and contribute to further infringement of the fundamental right of freedom of association. Activists have been unable to obtain an official copy of the proposed amendments, only a few summaries in the local media, and there has been almost no public debate on the amendments. Despite this, the amendments has been approved by Azerbaijan’s Milli Mejlis on December 17, 2013. We call on Azerbaijani President not to sign these approved amendments. Furthermore, we call for urgent action by the local and international community to prevent the passage of these approved legislation.
The approved amendments have been put forth by Azerbaijan’s government within the framework of a strong clampdown on NGOs. In spring 2013, amendments to the Law on Donations were put in place that require any organization who receives donations in the amount of 200AZN or more to report them to the Ministry of Justice, and forbids organizations other than charities from taking donations in cash. Later in the year, amendments to the Migration Code, eliminated a volunteer visa that was used by internationals working with independent local NGOs. And in the wake of the October 2013 presidential elections, several organization including the highly-respected Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center have been subjected to tax inspections, criminal investigations and restrictions on international travel.
December 16, 2013, the Chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Anar Mammadli has been arrested on charges of illegal entrepreneurship and subsequent sentencing to three months' pre-trial detention.
According to information disseminated by the Milli Majlis web-site, the approved amendments include the following provisions:
- If a non-governmental organization fails to respond to requests for information, fails to submit required documents and information, or submits incorrect information, officials of those organizations may be fined 2,000 AZN, and NGOs and branches and representative offices of foreign NGOs in Azerbaijan may be fined between 2,500 AZN and 3,000 AZN.
- The activity of NGOs and branches or representatives of INGOs may be suspended for one year through a court decision in instances defined in the NGO law.
- Extracts from the registry of public unions [incl. NGOs] will only be valid for up to 90 days. [These extracts are necessary in dealing with tax authorities, banks, donors, and other Azerbaijan state authorities. They are quite onerous to obtain.]
- In the event that the founding documents of an NGO or branches or representative of an INGO does not comport with the requirements Azerbaijan’s local laws, officials of the organization can be fined 2,000 AZN, and branches or representatives of INGOs can be fined to 3,000 AZN.
- Foreign NGOs that have permission to operate in Azerbaijan must appoint an Azeri as the deputy chairperson of the NGO.
- Foreign NGOs that fail to have the agreement on their operations in the country extended shall have their operations permanently banned.
In conclusion, we strongly urge the Azerbaijan President not to sign this repressive legislation.
Baku, December 18, 2013
- Ziya Guliyev, Center for Legal Initiatives
- Rashid Hajili, Media Rights Institute
- Intigam Aliyev, Legal Education Society
- Matanat Azizova, Women Crisis Center
- Annaghi Hacıbeyli, Azerbaijan Lawyer Association
- Zohrab Ismayil, Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy
- Emin Huseynov, Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety
- Gubad Ibadoglu, Public Initiatives Center
- Rasul Jafarov, Human Rights Club
- Dilara Afandiyeva, Society to Protect the Rights of Women named after Dilara Aliyeva.
- Hafiz Hasanov, Law and Development Public Association
- Eldar Zeynalov, Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
- Aytakin Imranova, Islam, Democracy and Human Rights Center
- Mehdibay Safarov, Azeri-Talısh Public Union
- Azer Mehtiyev, Center For Support For Economic Initiatives
- Javad Javadov, Advocate, Member of Bar Association
- Elchin Abdullayev, Democratic Institutuions and Human Rights Public Union
- Leyla Yunus, Peace and Democracy Institute
- Mirali Huseynov, Democracy Learning Public Union
- Taleh Aliyev, Civil Society Institute Public Union
- Mirvari Gahramanlı, Oil-Workers Rights Protection Organization
- Mahammad Talıblı, Economic Analyse Center
- Sevil Yuzbashova, Eko-World Public Union
- Khalid Kazımlı, Regional Human Rights and Media Center
- Shaban Nasirov, Human Rights - 2003 Public Union
- Nəsrulla Nurullayev,
- Mubariz Taghıyev, Human Rights in Extractive Industries Public Union
- Sabit Baghırov, Entrepreneurship Development Foundation
- Alovsat Sadighli, Education Research Center
- Irada Javadova, Education on Human Rights Public Union
- Shahla Ismayil, Women’s Association for Rational Development
- Shukur Izzatoglu, Regional Human rights and Social İnvestigations Center
- Mehriban Vazir, Political Culture Center of Azerbaijani Women
- Seadet Bananyarlı, National Section of the International Society for Human Rights
for acts of violence against women
UN OHCHR (6 December 2013) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo today urged the Azerbaijan authorities to fully implement the country’s current legislation and “to punish not only the perpetrators of violence against woman, but also those who fail in their duty to respond to the violation.”
“State responsibility to act with due diligence to eliminate violence against women, is an obligation under international human rights law, which the Azerbaijani Government has committed to,” Ms. Manjoo said at the end of her first official mission* to Azerbaijan to examine the issue of violence against women in the country.
The human rights expert commended the authorities for their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and the adoption of specific legal measures to achieve equality and non-discrimination, including for women. However, she noted, the issue of limited or the lack of implementation of laws and policies was consistently raised during her mission.
“The vast majority of interviewees acknowledged that violence against women is widespread in Azerbaijan, but the actual extent of the phenomenon is very difficult to assess,” she said, noting the lack of reliable information provided, the underreporting of cases, the focus on mediation and reconciliation in matters involving violations of women’s rights, and poor implementation of laws that would address the issue of accountability, among others.
“I am extremely concerned by the statistics that were shared with me on gender related killings of women,” Ms. Manjoo said. “The killing of a woman is the ultimate act of violence and is a reflection of the lack of protection and prevention measures when other acts of violence are not addressed by state authorities.”
The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the issues of trafficking of women, for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour, and the increasing number of early, forced and unregistered marriages, in particular in the Southern region. According to the State Committee, more than 5000 girls have been victims of early marriages in 2013.
She also warned about an increase in the number of sex-selective abortions in Azerbaijan, which was revealed during her interviews. “Azerbaijan is reported to rank second among countries where this practice is prevalent. This is a reflection of patriarchal notions relating to the value attached to women and girl-children in society,” the independent expert stressed.
Ms. Manjoo also expressed concern about the vulnerable and marginalized situation of internally displaced communities as a consequence of the occupation of 20% Azerbaijani territories, especially women and girls, and the challenges of their current living conditions, as noted by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
“The Government of Azerbaijan has made efforts to address access to education, employment, health care, psychological support and housing,” she noted. “Despite such efforts, I witnessed and heard distressing accounts of hardships and the challenges of living in camps, dormitories and ‘hotel’ accommodation.”
The Special Rapporteur has also stressed that the inadequacy of social protection measures is compounded by the issue of widespread corruption, particularly affecting State institutions. It was highlighted as a major obstacle to equal access to social services, including in the education and health sectors; and also as regards access to justice.
The Special Rapporteur expressed her concern at the cumbersome requirements imposed on NGOs, in respect of registration/accreditation processes, and also their reporting obligations to numerous authorities, especially when funded by the State.She also received allegations of government bias in favour of some NGOs to the exclusion of others, and that reprisals are sometimes experienced by the more independent NGOs.
The UN Special Rapporteur called for the adoption of holistic solutions to address the individual empowerment of women, while acknowledging and addressing the social, economic and cultural barriers that are a reality in the lives of women in Azerbaijan. She also encouraged the development of social transformation initiatives that address the causes of inequality and discrimination, which most often lead to violence against women.
During her ten-day visit from 25 November to 5 December, Ms. Manjoo met with Government officials in Baku, Khachmaz, Ganja, Lankaran and Sumgayit. She also met with representatives of civil society and service providers.
Based on the information obtained during the mission, Ms. Manjoo will present a report with her final findings and recommendations to a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council.
Full End of SR VAW Mission Statement:
UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women - Website:
IRFS (23.11.2013) - The climate of impunity which allows attacks on journalists in Azerbaijan to remain unpunished is contributing to the on-going repression of free expression, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety said today. On International Day to End Impunity, the organization calls for justice for journalists who have been killed and attacked because of their work.
The organization condemns in the strongest terms impunity for those responsible for the murders and repression, as well as lack of official concern for the protection of media professionals.
On the 2nd anniversary of Rafiq Taqi's death IRFS remembers courageous journalist and writer who stood up to the injustice and wrongdoings and paid the ultimate price.
‘Taqi was a remarkable man whose life was a true symbol of the struggle for a free and independent press, free and independent expression’, IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov said.
Taqi had been writing extensively about religious issues and faced numerous threats throughout his professional career. In November 2011, he was attacked in the street near his home by an unknown assailant who stabbed him seven times. Following surgery, Tagi had appeared to be in recovery, but he then died four days after the attack under circumstances the IRFS considered suspicious.
Two years after Taqi’s death IRFS believes that there needs to be renewed focus and attention not only to find those who enacted the killing but also to bring those who ordered the killing to justice. IRFS calls upon the government to ensure that justice and the rule of law prevail in Azerbaijan by bringing all perpetrators to justice in a timely, professional and transparent manner.
In August 2009, editor-in-chief of the minority Talysh language newspaper Tolishi Sedo and Talysh cultural activist Novruzali Mammadov died in custody while serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges of high treason. Prior to his death, Mammadov had reported a number of serious health issues, some of which were likely exacerbated during a 15-day period when prison officials kept him in solitary confinement and deprived him of bedding and warm clothes. The authorities failed to provide Mammadov with adequate medical care and kept him in prison despite widespread international calls for his release on humanitarian grounds.
In March 2005, Monitor magazine editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov was murdered in a well-organized attack that appeared to be a contract-style killing. After receiving a number of death threats, he was gunned down in the stairwell of his apartment building in Baku, where he died on the scene. Renowned for his groundbreaking reporting, an outspoken critic of the current regime, Elmar Huseynov set a standard of investigative journalism and personal courage in Azerbaijan and internationally. Despite continued calls on Azerbaijani authorities to find the perpetrators involved, justice has not been served in Elmar Husyenov’s case and it remains unsolved.
Since Huseynov’s death, there have been more than 250 attacks against journalists in Azerbaijan.
“The rights to freedom of expression, information and association are not abstract principles; they are rights that Azerbaijan has an obligation to fulfill,” “We can't allow the killers to determine what we should write or say. By demanding justice for our colleagues, we are also standing up for the right of people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas”, IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov said.
IRFS urges Azerbaijani government to bring journalists’ killers to justice and ensure the safety of Azerbaijani journalists at risk for carrying out their professional duties.
On the International Day to End Impunity, IRFS calls on Azerbaijani government to:
· Ensure that the murders of Rafiq Ragi and Elmar Huseynov, death of Novruzali Mammadov as well as hundreds of attacks of journalists are properly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice;
· Provide public information on the state of the investigations into the murders of Rafiq Ragi and Elmar Huseynov;
· Detain and prosecute those responsible for the blackmail attempt and violation of privacy of outspoken female journalist Khadija Ismayilova in March 2012.
· Fully investigate all threats against journalists and establish adequate protection mechanisms.
· Immediately release the currently detained and imprisoned journalists, bloggers and activists behind bars in connection with exercising their right to freedom of expression.
· Drop the charges against journalists and activists who face jail time in connection with exercising their right to freedom of expression.
· Remove defamation provisions from the Criminal Code.
IRFS (21.11.2013) - On the World Television Day, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) calls on the Azerbaijani government to embark on reforms to ensure broadcasting pluralism and diversity in Azerbaijan.
The United Nations’ (UN) World Television Day is annually observed in many places around the world on November 21. The day recognizes that television plays a major role in presenting different issues that affect people.
In Azerbaijan, the nine national channels serve the government’s political goals, shaping public opinion by boosting, playing down, or ignoring certain issues, figures, or groups and instilling sentiments that benefit the ruling regime’s political interests.
Three (AzTV, Idman Azerbaijan and Medeniyyet Azerbaijan) out of the nine national television channels are state-owned, and in contrast to the international trend of privatizing state media, the Azerbaijani government continues to open a new state television station approximately every other year.
Because the government exercises full control over the broadcast licenses via the National Television and Radio Council (NTRC), the licensing of broadcast media outlets remains highly political, biased, and non-transparent. The NTRC consists of seven acting members appointed directly by the president and is fully funded from the state budget. There is no legal guarantee of its independence.
For instance, NTRC failed to take any measures against private broadcaster Lider TV, which repeatedly broadcasted intimate videos of opposition activists, in direct violation of the Law on TV and Radio Broadcasting.
The NTRC does not take any measure against the state broadcaster AzTV which has violated the article 5 of the Law on TV and Radio Broadcasting by operating more than two television channels.
Furthermore, IRFS reminds that in the article 4 of the Law on Antimonopoly Activity, “dominating position” is defined as an “exceptional position of economic subject which allows, using its economic potential, to influence competition and so to restrict access of other market participants to the market”. Position of the economic subject with the share in the market exceeding 35 percent or other ultimate figure specified by legislation is regarded as dominating. By possessing 3 out of 9 national broadcasters, the AZTV has violated this law.
IRFS states that Azerbaijani public broadcaster, Ictimai does not serve the public interest or ensure pluralism, failing to provide balanced and varied programming for all sectors of the population as required through its membership in the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Ictimai gives only brief – and often one-sided – information about significant events in the country, such as the activities of political parties or public associations. At present Ictimai TV is financed directly from the state budget (except for minor advertising incomes) which raises questions about its independence.
The Ictimai TV’s claims to the EBU of ignoring the Azerbaijani votes for the Russian representative at this year Eurovision Song Contest, as well as the procedural violations that occurred during the election of the Ictimai TV CEO once again prove the lack of independence of this channel.
The World Television Day is a day to renew governments’, organizations’ and individuals’ commitments to support the development of television media in providing unbiased information about important issues and events that affect society. To this end, IRFS calls on the government of Azerbaijan to:
· Ensure transparency in media ownership structures.
· Set up an independent broadcasting regulatory body to ensure the fair and transparent distribution of television and radio frequencies through a simplified licensing procedure, in line with the Council of Europe’s recommendations.
· Ensure that the public service broadcaster, Ictimai, complies with international standards for public service
broadcasting and provides balanced and varied programming for all sectors of the population.
· Reverse the ban prohibiting foreign broadcasters from accessing national frequencies.
· Encourage and support the introduction and increased penetration of new information and communication technologies, such as the Internet and digital broadcasting, by adopting supportive legislation and setting up and financing educational projects that would convince businesses to invest in these technologies, and help citizens to understand and use these technologies.
· Distribute the digital broadcasting licenses to different operators after switching to digital broadcasting. It should prevent monopolization of the market by allocating licenses only to those broadcasters that currently hold a dominant position in the market.
· Adopt and unveil its national policy regarding digitalization and its activity plan to switch to digital broadcasting.
· Prevent creation of monopoly in digital television market by putting forth a legal initiative that will prohibit the concentration of few big groups (digital multiplex operators, TV stations, program packets and program providers) which would dominate the digital broadcasting. Taking into consideration the effect of the switch-over to the digital media, the government should encourage the enlightenment campaign and debates in connection with the access to digital broadcasting.
The UN acknowledges that television can be used to educate many people about the world, its issues and real stories that happen on the planet. Television is one of the most influential forms of media for communication and information dissemination. It is used to broadcast freedom of expressions and to increase cultural diversity. The UN realized that television played a major role in presenting global issues affecting people and this needed to be addressed.
On December 17, 1996, UN General Assembly proclaimed November 21 as World Television Day to commemorate the date on which the first World Television Forum was held earlier that year. The UN invited all member states to observe the day by encouraging global exchanges of television programs focusing, among other things, on issues such as peace, security, economic and social development and cultural change enhancements.
RFE/RL (15.11.2013) - An opposition journalist and an antigovernment blogger have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms in Baku.
Blogger Rasad Ramazanov was jailed for nine years for drug possession.
In a separate case, Sardar Alibeyli, the editor of the opposition newspaper "P.S. Nota," was sentenced to four years in prison on hooliganism charges.
Their supporters say the charges are politically motivated.
Amnesty International condemned the two sentences on November 14, calling the cases against two men "based on offenses fabricated by the prosecution."
The rights watchdog also lambasted a criminal probe launched by Azerbaijani authorities against a leading independent election monitor.
The Election Monitoring Center had been critical of last month's election, won by longtime President Ilham Aliyev.
Amnesty also said two opposition newspapers that criticized the poll have been forced to stop printing their daily editions amid government pressure.
expression and association
IRFS (15.11.2013) - Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is deeply concerned over the aggressive government crackdown against freedom of expression and freedom of association in the wake of October’s presidential election, and demands that authorities put an end to this repression and fulfill the country’s commitments in the fields of the freedom of expression and association.
IRFS considers the 4 year prison sentence passed on Nota Bene newspaper editor Serdar Alibayli and the 9 year jail sentence on blogger Rashad Ramazanov to be part of the ever increasing repression on freedom of expression, and urges the Azerbaijani authorities to release all journalists imprisoned on trumped-up charges. In the course of its court monitoring, IRFS has observed serious violations of national and international legal norms during trials for journalists and bloggers.
“Serdar Alibayli has always been very critical and sharp-tongued towards the government, in particular the Azerbaijani president, and blogger Rashad Ramazanov posted critical thoughts on his Facebook page. These persons have surely been arrested due to their critical opinions. Azerbaijan will chair the Council of Europe in 2014, but, throw the jailing innocent people on fake charges, the country demonstrates its failure to fulfill the human rights obligations it undertook during accession in to the organization” said IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov.
IRFS notes that one of the first victims of the authorities’ post-election crackdown was the opposition newspaper Azadliq, which ceased to be published, after its bank accounts were suspended due to the paper’s failure to pay huge defamation fines imposed by courts based on a series of lawsuits filed by close allies of the government. The attempts to force Azadliq to shut down are deliberate repression and represent a violation of the freedom of expression as Azadliq is one of only a handful of opposition newspapers that serves as a platform for alternative opinion.
“Azadliq’s closure, and similar financial problems that have confronted another major opposition newspaper, Yeni Musavat, only lead to a further shrinking of the space for free expression in Azerbaijan. The former’s closure and the latter’s risk of closure could lead to the complete disappearance of alternative print media in Azerbaijan,” Huseynov noted.
IRFS also notes with regret that Altay Goyushov, a history professor at Baku State University, was recently forced to leave a lecture hall and then pressured by the university leadership to resign from his job due to his Facebook posts, which were of a political nature. IRFS notes that the harassment of a person for his opinions is unacceptable and reflects the government’s excessive intolerance to alternative opinion.
Concurrent with efforts to eliminate the leading opposition press, the authorities continue to put pressure on “Ganun” Publishing House, which produces publications containing alternative views. The publishing company’s main personal computers and all of its financial documents were confiscated after a government-ordered tax audit was conducted in the company’s office last week. By seizing the computers for no reason, the Ministry of Taxes has, in effect, paralyzed the publishing company’s work.
In addition to targeting journalists and media outlets in the aftermath of October 9 presidential election, the Azerbaijani government launched relentless pressure on non-governmental organizations. The Prosecutor General’s Office has recently initiated trumped-up criminal cases against the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDSC) and several other NGOs that declared massive election falsifications in their election monitoring reports. This is a flagrant display of the government’s ruthless attitude towards civil society.
“The continuous and increasing repression against media and civil society shows that instead of building democracy in the country, the Azerbaijani authorities violate international obligations and, in fact, are drawing the country back to Soviet-style dictatorship” Emin Huseynov noted.
IRFS urges the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the 14 journalists, human rights defenders and bloggers who are currently behind bars, to put an end to pressures on the opposition press and “Ganun” publishing house, to stop the crackdown on NGOs, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the country’s international obligations, and to implement urgently needed democratic reform.
IRFS also calls on the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the United Nations to intervene in the dangerous and non-democratic situation in Azerbaijan by demanding that the Azerbaijani government fulfill its obligations and imposing concrete sanctions in case of the government’s failure to do so.
Azernews (26.08.2013) - Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross have visited an Azerbaijani soldier held in Armenian captivity, ICRC Baku Office spokesperson Ilaha Huseynova told Trend news agency on August 26.
According to Huseynova, the Azerbaijani soldier was informed about how his family is doing. He also had a chance to convey information about himself to his family.
Firuz Farajov, a soldier of the Azerbaijani armed forces born in 1992, got lost on the contact line between the Armenian and Azerbaijani troops near Azerbaijan's Tovuz region on July 26, 2012 and was captured by Armenian armed units.
Ten days ago, during his meeting with ICRC representative Dragana Rankovich, Armenia's First Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan said the Azerbaijani captive wants to return home.
Moreover, Armenian armed forces recently captured an ethnic Azerbaijani Georgian citizen. Georgia's Foreign Ministry is holding talks with Armenia on repatriating him.
For over two decades, Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in conflict which emerged over Armenian territorial claims. A precarious ceasefire was reached after a lengthy war that displaced over a million Azerbaijanis and has been in place between the two South Caucasus countries since 1994. Since the hostilities, Armenian armed forces have occupied over 20 percent of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.
The UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions on Armenian withdrawal from the Azerbaijani territory, but they have not been enforced to this day.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: PACE Rapporteur Christoph Strasser’s resolution on the status of political prisoners defeated
ESI Newsletter 3/2013 (26.02.2013) - On 23 January 2013 a record 224 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), elected representatives from across Europe, participated in a debate and voted on a resolution on the status of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
There have never been more members voting on any resolution in the history of PACE.
The vote was also historic because of its outcome: PACE rapporteur Christoph Straesser's resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan was defeated – 125 votes against 79 votes, with 20 abstentions. This sent a strong signal of support to the authoritarian regime in Baku.
This came about as representatives of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev's regime had long waged a campaign against Straesser, who was appointed as rapporteur in March 2009. Most egregiously, Azerbaijan even refused to issue Straesser a visa to visit the country on a fact-finding mission, although he applied for it three times. This was open contempt for the core mandate of PACE. Straesser was also openly and repeatedly accused of being part of an anti-Azerbaijani lobbying effort.
The vote on 23 January 2013 was also remarkable in terms of who voted with Azerbaijan and who voted with Straesser. All 18 Russian members were present and sided with Azerbaijan. So did 10 Turks, 9 Spaniards, 9 Italians and a majority of members from the United Kingdom (7), Ukraine (7) and France (7).
In total, 54 people spoke in the debate. Straesser was accused by his critics of the following flaws:
Not visiting Azerbaijan. "Sadly the rapporteur, Mr. Straesser, who is passionate about this issue, has not visited prisons and prisoners in Azerbaijan" (Robert Walter, UK Conservative).
Walter deliberately ignores the fact that Straesser was denied a visa for three years by the Azerbaijani authorities. Furthermore, in PACE, the UK Tories have joined the same political party group as Vladimir Putin’s United Russia and Ilham Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party.
Supporting serious criminals. "If the report is approved … those who deal with human organs and those who deal drugs to fund terrorism can all announce themselves to be political prisoners" (Leonid Slutsky, Russia).
This is a perfect distortion of the definition of political prisoner accepted by the assembly in October 2012, which excludes any justification of terrorism for any cause. Note that Slutsky himself is the proud bearer of both the Order of Kadyrov (2007) and the Order of Friendship bestowed by Ilham Aliyev (2009).
Double standards. "Many of the countries represented here have pretty bad human rights records. Let those without sin throw the first stone. Very few of the countries here could throw the first stone" (Terry Leyden, Ireland).
This argument in fact suggests that the human rights across Europe had become so bad that there was no use any longer of trying to uphold the European Convention of Human Rights.
Empowering terrorists and Islamists. "If you do not want to endorse terrorists and Islamists, vote no to Mr. Straesser's report" (Agustin Conde Bajen, Spanish conservative).
Remarkably, all individuals Conde refers to in his intervention in PACE are people who Straesser's report did NOT consider "presumed political prisoners"!
We recommend to everyone interested to read annotated summaries of the recent dramatic debates in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Azerbaijan:
See European Stability Initiative Report Generation Facebook in Baku at http://www.esiweb.org/index.php?lang=en&id=156&document_ID=128
For more see the latest Rumeli Observer blog post Les Miserables in Azerbaijan at http://www.esiweb.org/rumeliobserver/2013/02/26/les-miserables-in-azerbaijan/
Human Rights House (26.01.2013) - The Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) was informed today by its partners that prominent human rights defenders were arrested in Baku, Azerbaijan, in connection with a protest held on Saturday 26 January 2013.
Hundreds of people have demonstrated in Azerbaijan's capital to express solidarity with recent protests in the central town of Ismayilli.
More than 40 participants to the peaceful protests were detained, including prominent blogger Emin Milli, human rights defenders and Rafto Price laureate of 2009 Malahat Nasibova, human rights lawyer Intigam Alieyev, as well as investigative journalist and Fritt Ord Foundation / ZEIT Foundation award winner of 2012 Khadija Ismayilova.
The arrests happen two days after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan and call upon the authorities to stop attacks and harassment against human rights defenders. The Azerbaijani human rights defenders present in Strasbourg held joint press conference in the Council of Europe buildings on Wednesday 23 January 2013.
Ane Tusvik Bonde, HRHF's Regional Manager for Eastern Europe, says HRHF is extremely concerned that the arrests take place just few days after several humen rights defenders, including Malahat Nasibpova, returned from Strasbourg where she took part in a delegation of international and national human rights organizations.
By arresting within a crowd of protesters also these prominent human rights defenders, Azerbaijan authorities show that they use detention as a tool to punish critical voices, few days after those critical voices expressed their opinions at the Council of Europe.
The Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) vigorously condemns the arrest of all participants to the peaceful protest, including the prominent human rights defenders few days after the resolution was adopted by the Council of Europe.
HRHF calls upon the immediate and unconditional release of all protestors and human rights defenders arrested on Saturday 26 January 2013 and calls upon the international community to request from Azerbaijani authorities to stop punishing critical voices, including human rights defenders.
Malahat Nasibova was part of the delegation of Azerbaijani human rights defenders present in Strasbourg at the PACE session. She has greatly contributed to the advocacy, especially by underlining human rights violations in the Autonomous Region Nakhchivan.
Khadija Ismayilova has covered the information about the advocacy trip, including by airing an interview with Florian Irminger, HRHF's Head of Advocacy and Geneva Office.
Intigam Alieyev's NGO, the Legal Education Society, a partner NGO of the Azerbaijan Human Rights House, was an important part in drafting the advocacy documents used by the human rights defenders during their stay in Strasbourg.
Emin Milli has widely published the information about the PACE session, including on Twitter and on his Facebook page.
OSCE media freedom representative criticizes police violence against journalists in Azerbaijan, offers assistance in prevention
OSCE (15.01.2013) – The OSCE Representative on freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, said today she was concerned over the excessive use of force against journalists by riot police during a recent public protest in Baku.Several reporters were harassed and prevented from doing their job during a demonstration on 12 January against the deaths of young Azerbaijani army conscripts.
“I condemn all violence against media workers as serious obstacles to pluralism and media freedom. I ask the Azerbaijani authorities to investigate this incident and take measures to prevent similar incidents in the future,” said Mijatović.
Among the affected journalists were Objectiv TV correspondent Radim Aliyev, RFE/RL reporter Vusala Alibayli, Azadliq newspaper correspondent Islam Shikhali, as well as a journalist from deyerler.org news portal. Emin Huseynov, Chair of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), who was also at the demonstration, was pushed to the ground by a policeman.
“I am particularly concerned that the journalists were mistreated even though they were wearing reflective vests, clearly identifying them as journalists,” said Mijatović in letter sent today to Azerbaijani foreign and interior ministers.
“This incident also shows that we need to continue our joint activities, such as the training course my office organized for police officers and journalists in Baku last November to promote standards in the safety of reporters,” she added. This was the first such training course financed by the Government of Azerbaijan and held jointly with the Press Council of Azerbaijan.
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