Politically motivated persecutions in Azerbaijan

"It should have been Khadija Ismayil speaking to you today” said Brigitte Dufour opening the side event “Politically motivated persecutions in Azerbaijan” which IPHR hosted in the framework of Civic Solidarity Platform at HDIM 2015.

Today when the space of freedom in Azerbaijan is shrinking there were no human right defenders living in Baku, who could safely speak about their country. A year ago Khadija Ismayil was one of the panelists at HDIM 2014. Today her chair in the panel was empty.

There could have been more empty chairs as more and more journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and NGO activists are jailed in Azerbaijan. Speaking about pressure applied to civil society Emin Milli, Meydan TV executive director referred to the most widespread conviction applied to activists. He joked bitterly: “Now we know that all drug trafficking in Azerbaijan is organized by civil society leaders”.

Emin knows this the personal experience. Recently his cousin was accused in illegal drug possession, brother of his wife was detained with the same allegations, as well as relative of his fellow journalist working in France was accused in drug trafficking. We can recollect many more cases when human rights defenders in Azerbaijan were sentenced for alleged drug possession. To get the cousin out of prison 23 relatives of Emin Milli were forced to write public letter stating that they do not support Milli’s “anti-Azerbaijan policy” and exclude him from their family due to “betrayal of Azerbaijan.”

Emin says however that such pressure is not humiliation of people it is humiliation of the country, which is forced to live without freedom. Besides the pressure applied to the family members of civil society leaders living in exile, Azerbaijan persecutes people who cooperate with them. Many journalists working for Meydan TV in Azerbaijan have been persecuted. Their family members were threatened with imprisonment due to professional activity of journalists.

Another speaker, Rebecca Vincent, leader of Sport for Rights campaign described general situation in Azerbaijan. She specified that pressure on civil society has not decreased, but even became more severe. Just recently young journalist reporting for Meydan TV Shirin Abbasov has been sentenced to 30 days in jail on an administrative charge of disobeying police orders. For the first 30 hours of detention his relatives were not even notified on the arrest.

Representatives of the government of Azerbaijan were also present at the event. Among other remarks a government representative said that those imprisoned human rights defenders should have thought about the impact on their families in case of their imprisonment. Dinara Yunus, daughter of Leila and Arif Yunus, replied that she was proud of her parents and wished everybody had such parents. Dinara went on to describe critical condition of Yunus couple. Leila has hepatitis C and diabetes, Arif had a stroke during one of the court hearings during the summer. Dinara is afraid that the trial could have been the last time her parents, who lived together happily for 37 years, saw each other alive. Considering the health condition of Yunus couple they should be released on humanitarian grounds. Otherwise their sentence in fact becomes death penalty.

Civil society of Azerbaijan and international NGOs demand stronger response from OSCE, European Commission and Council of Europe to the crack down on civil society of Azerbaijan. All possible measures including personal sanctions should be applied to achieve release of political prisoners.