Open letter on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan
Stockholm, 15 August, 2014
Dear President Ilham Aliyev, Minister of Justice Fikrat Mammadov and Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov,
Civil Rights Defenders wish to express our deepest concern over the recent arrests of at least four human rights defenders: Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev, Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunusov. We view these arrests as one more sign of the deteriorating human rights situation in your country. Azerbaijan is party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of association. Therefore, we call on you to immediately release all four of these human rights defenders.
Rasul Jafarov was arrested in Baku on 2 August and remanded in custody for up to 3 months. Mr. Jafarov is the chairman and one of the founders of the Human Rights Club, an organisation dedicated to defending and enhancing human rights in Azerbaijan. In July the authorities froze his bank accounts and seized his passport. Mr. Jafarov has been charged with tax evasion, illegal commercial activity and abuse of authority. Intigam Aliyev, Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov apparently face similar charges – charges which are clearly a way of silencing them. Another human rights defender, Anar Mammadli, founder of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center was recently sentenced to five years imprisonment on the same charges Mr. Jafarov and his colleagues are now facing.
From its founding in 2010 Mr. Jafarov’s organisation Human Rights Club has faced resistance from the authorities in Azerbaijan. Among other things the organisation has been unlawfully denied to properly register as a non-profit, enabling the charges of tax evasion and illegal commercial activity now levied against Mr. Jafarov. The very same thing has happened to several other organisations, displaying a pattern of government resistance to the establishment of independent civil society organisations.
The recent developments in your country are especially shocking as Azerbaijan currently holds the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe. Through its very membership of the Council, Azerbaijan has declared its commitment to respecting and protecting human rights. We draw your attention to the fact that the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe repeatedly expressed grave concerns about persistent violations of freedom of expression and freedom of association in your country.
We urge you to facilitate the immediate and unconditional release of Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev, Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov. In addition we call on you to ensure that they have unhindered access to legal and medical assistance whilst in detention in accordance with international standards.
Civil Rights Defenders also call on the authorities of Azerbaijan to take all necessary measures in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to ensure the protection of all human rights defenders and advance an environment in which they can continue their legitimate work in safety and peace.
Robert Hårdh, Executive Director, Civil Rights Defenders