Unfair Trials Punishing Azerbaijani Civil Society

Prominent Azerbaijani human rights defenders Rasul Jafarov was arrested on 2 August in Baku, on spurious charges of illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office. His pre trial detention term was once again extended by 3 months on 23 October.  On December 12, additional charges were brought against Rasul Jafarov relating to embezzlement and service forgery.

Rasul Jafarov is the chairman of the Human Rights Club, and coordinated the “Sing for Democracy” campaign that used the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 as a platform to improve human rights awareness in Azerbaijan.

“The situation for human rights defenders in Azerbaijan has deteriorated to an unacceptable level over the past year. Civil society is being strangled from the ground up and it is clear that international pressure must be brought to bear against the Aliev regime. To date the international community has been largely mute when it comes to bringing Azerbaijan to task over its human rights record. Civil Rights Defenders urges that international pressure now be stepped up against the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders from prison,” said Robert Hårdh, Executive Director, Civil Rights Defenders.

If convicted of the charges levied against him as his trial continues on February 10, Rasul Jafarov can be sentenced to up to 12 years in jail. He is one of a number of Azerbaijani human rights defenders being held in pre- trial detention waiting for their cases to be heard. Civil Rights Defenders demands that the authorities immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. Civil Rights Defenders has been monitoring the human rights situation in the country and has seen the situation go from bad to worse as the authorities continue their relentless crackdown against civil society. There are several human rights defenders currently awaiting trial or on trial.

Leyla Yunus, is a prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender and the Director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy (IPD) an organisation heavily involved in promoting rule of law having been particularly active in assisting people who have been subjected to forced evictions in Baku. Leyla and her organisation have faced ongoing harassment from the authorities as a result of her efforts to expose corruption. She also works on reconciliation between Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia. She has received several awards in recognition of her work. In late July 2014 Leyla was arrested on spurious charges of spying for Armenia and and has been in pre trial detention ever since awaiting for the trial date which is set for February 28. Leyla’s husband Arif Yunus, a prominent historian who has been vocal in criticising the regime, was arrested shortly after Leyla on the same charges and will remain in pre-trial detention until March 5.

Intigam Aliyev is a human rights lawyer and leader of the Legal Education Society a well- known Azerbaijani human right organisation that provides advice and support to several non-governmental organisations and economically disenfranchised groups. Intigam’s work has been instrumental in submitting hundreds of cases to the European Court of Human Rights pertaining to vote rigging, freedom of speech abuses, and the right to a fair trial.  He was first sentenced to pre-trial detention on August 08, 2014 Intigam’s trial began on January 23.

Khadija Ismayilova is a prominent investigative journalist who worked for Radio Free Europe and Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). Ismayilova was taken into custody by authorities on December 5, 2014, to be held in pre-trial detention for two months. The court has now extended her detention for a further two months. She is accused of driving a former colleague to attempt suicide, a charge she denies. No trial date has been set.