Azerbaijani human rights activist Rasul Jafarov has been charged with tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and power abuse and sentenced to three months of pre-trial detention. Jafarov’s detention follows the arrest last week of Leyla Yunus and the disappearance of the print edition of Azadliq from the streets of Baku. Arif Yunus was put under a three month pretrial detention on 5 Aug.
Jafarov, an Index contributor, is a prominent campaigner and critic of Azerbaijan’s government, led by President Ilham Aliyev. He has worked on putting together a detailed list of the country’s some 140 political prisoners and was one of the organisers behind the Sing for Democracy campaign, in connection with the 2012 Eurovision final in Baku. He was charged with three articles of the Penal Code by Rasul Nasimi district court in the capital Baku, following interrogation at the Prosecutor General’s office. Last week he was handed down a travel ban.
His arrest comes days after fellow human rights defenders Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif were charged with crimes including high treason. Last week, Azadliq, of the country’s few remaining independent newspapers, was also forced to suspend publication of its print edition due to financial troubles. The charges against Jafarov are the same as those that in May saw Anar Mammadli, another prominent human rights defender, sentenced to 5.5 years in prison.
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), an Azerbaijani press freedom organisation, said Jafarov’s arrest is “part of a dedicated campaign aimed at suspension of activities of unregistered NGOs in Azerbaijan”. Registering NGOs in Azerbaijan is difficult — Jafarov has reportedly attempted to register his organisation Human Rights Club a number of times without success. As a result, many groups operate without a licence.
There has recently been an escalation in the targeting of opposition voices in Azerbaijan, according to IRFS, who say this crackdown has included state-controlled media smear campaign, raids on NGO offices, confiscation of equipment, suspension of NGO bank accounts, and intimidation and legal pursuit of NGO workers.
In May, Azerbaijan assumed chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, whose tasks include “ensure[ing] that member states comply with the judgments and certain decisions of the European Court of Human Rights”.
“Further deterioration of the situation with fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as repressions against the civil society is incompatible with Azerbaijan’s international commitments, especially in light of its current presidency in the Council of Europe,” said the Civic Solidarity Platform, a network of 60 human rights NGOs of the OSCE region, in a statement.
“We know that the charges against those brave human rights defenders are politically motivated. The authorities want to silence those holding the country to its international obligations and commitments, including within the Council of Europe” said Maria Dahle, Executive Director of the Human Rights House Network.
Index Reports: Locking up free expression: Azerbaijan silences critical voices (Oct 2013) | Running Scared: Azerbaijan’s silenced voices (Mar 2012)
An earlier version of this article stated that Arif Yunus had been arrested last week. This was incorrect. Yunus was arrested on 5 Aug and sentenced to a three month pretrial detention.