The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers to take immediate measures to address the disturbing trend of arresting members of Azerbaijan’s civil society. Specifically, the IBAHRI urges the Secretary General to convoke an urgent session of the Committee in order to discuss the situation and to draft a resolution condemning the recent arrests.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said, ‘It is disturbingly ironic that, at a time when Azerbaijan holds the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the most dramatic crackdown of civil society in the country’s own jurisdiction is taking place. Rather than representing the democratic values of the Council of Europe and upholding the essential freedoms guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is undermining them.’ She added, ‘Azerbaijan has both domestic and international obligations to legally protect fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression. It is wholly unacceptable that the Azerbaijani authorities are so flagrantly violating these basic liberties.’

The IBAHRI fact-finding delegation, which visited Azerbaijan in late 2013, found that Azerbaijani criminal law is being used to silence critics of the regime and curtail the operating freedom of journalists and human rights defenders. The resulting May 2014 IBAHRI report, Azerbaijan Freedom of Expression on Trial, found there to be a number of politically motivated prosecutions commonly consisting of fabricated charges against civil society actors.

More recently:

  • İntigam Aliyev, an Azerbaijani human rights lawyer, was arrested and sentenced to three months pre-trial detention on Friday 8 August 2014. He was charged with tax evasion (pursuant to Article 213 Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan), illegal entrepreneurship (pursuant to Article 192) and abuse of authority (pursuant to Article 308.2).
  • Rasul Jafarov, Chair of Azerbaijani non-governmental organisation (NGO) Human Rights Club, was arrested and sentenced to three months pre-trial detention on Saturday 2 August 2014, and charged with the same offences as Intigam Aliyev.
  • Emin Huseynov, Director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, was issued on 5 August 2014 with a travel ban, preventing him from leaving Baku.
  • Leyla Yunus, founding director of the Peace and Democracy Institute in Baku and prominent human rights activist, was arrested and sentenced to pre-trial detention on 30 July 2014. She was charged with state treason (Article 274 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan), large-scale fraud (Article 178.3.2), forgery (Article 320), tax evasion (Article 213) and illegal business (Article 192).
  • Arif Yunus, husband of Leyla Yunus, was arrested on 5 August 2014 and sentenced to pre-trial detention for the same charges as his wife.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Sternford Moyo commented, ‘When the arrests are placed in the context of bank accounts being frozen of numerous NGOs operating in Azerbaijan and President Ilham Aliyev signing into law controversial amendments to Azerbaijan’s NGO regulations, a perturbing picture emerges. The introduced laws have increased checks and registration requirements for NGOs with heavy sanctions and penalties for organisations falling foul of the new legislation.’ He added, ‘As a dominant economic regional power, the recent swathe of arrests and the crackdown on local and international NGOs in Azerbaijan, demonstrates that the country’s economic development is not being matched by the institution of democratic values, such as the protection of human rights. The IBAHRI urges the government of Azerbaijan to fulfil its obligations to its citizens by respecting and upholding the rule of law.’