Azerbaijan: Lawyers call for the release of Intigam Aliyev

In a letter to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, independent lawyers, barristers or attorneys-at-law, expressed concern over the sentencing of their colleague, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev: “We call upon you, Mr President, to immediately and unconditionally release Intigam Aliyev and rehabilitate his civil and political rights.”

After six months in detention on spurious charges Intigam Aliyev was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

“We identify with Intigam Aliyev”, the lawyers wrote, “because we believe everybody should have a right to a fair trial, just as he does. Yet, Intigam Aliyev’s trial was marred by procedural irregularities and violations of the right to a public hearing and the right to access the files and documents of the case.” In addition, Intigam Aliyev’s attorney managed to prove that he was not guilty of implementing projects without registration, which he was charged with.

All 95 lawyers expressed their sympathy for Intigam Aliyev, as a unique lawyer. Not only is he a teacher for a generation of young Azerbaijanis, but he is also an expert of the European legal system, one of the first Azerbaijani lawyers to
 utilize the European Court of Human Rights and the regional tutor in the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) programme of the Council of Europe.

In the letter the lawyers furter identified with Intigam Aliyev: “For all of us, being a lawyer is a unique privilege. We identify with Intigam Aliyev because in Azerbaijan, any of us could be arrested simply for doing the same work as he did.”

The lawyers included colleagues of Intigam Aliyev, from various Eastern European countries, from within the Human Rights House Network project International Law in Advocacy, of which he is the national expert in Azerbaijan. The signing lawyers also included lawyers invested in human rights, from the United States and Canada, Egypt or Iran, as well as western European countries.

Florian Irminger, head of advocacy at the Human Rights House Foundation, underlines the importance of supporting human rights defenders in Azerbaijan: “The imprisonment of Intigam Aliyev is part of a systematic crackdown on human rights in the country. Arbitrary detention has been used to silence critical voices in Azerbaijan for years, whilst at the same time they exhibit a modern state through major international events. This letter and attention from around 100 lawyers from three continents witness that the outside world are not fooled by the promotion.”

In their letter, the lawyers highlight that the detention conditions of Intigam Aliyev have an impact on his already poor health:

“He suffers from severe chronic headaches in addition to nerve pain and has reportedly been denied of appropriate health care to date.” In their letter, the lawyers urge the Azerbaijani authorities to respect “basic humanitarian principles” and ensure that Intigam Aliyev is receiving “complete and necessary treatment for all medical concerns.”

Azerbaijan: Open letter to EU ahead of Aliyev’s Brussels visit


Federica Mogherini and Ilham Aliyev. Credit: EEAS/CC BY

A coalition of 37 human rights NGOs has sent a letter to the EU member state heads and EU leaders ahead of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Brussels to participate in the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit on 24 November 2017. The NGOs urge the EU member state heads and leaders to use the summit to call on president Aliyev to end the current human rights crackdown in Azerbaijan and commit to concrete steps in this regard, including the release of individuals imprisoned on politically motivated charges and reforms of repressive NGO legislation.

The letter was sent on 27 October to the heads and foreign ministers of the 28 EU member states, as well as to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. The letter (as addressed to Federica Mogherini) can be read below or downloaded here.

Subject: Human Rights in Azerbaijan on the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit

Brussels, 27 October 2017

Dear Ms Federica Mogherini,

We, the undersigned organisations, are writing ahead of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Brussels to participate in the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit on 24 November. We urge you to use any opportunity you will have during the summit to call on president Aliyev to end the human rights crackdown and commit to concrete and sustainable human rights reforms in Azerbaijan. These include releasing individuals imprisoned on bogus, politically motivated charges; and reforming legislation that effectively prevents independent non-governmental organisations from operating and accessing funding.

Among the 20 Deliverables for the Eastern Partnership by 2020, the European Union has, notably, identified a vibrant civil society as a pre-requisite for “democratic, stable, prosperous and resilient communities and nations.”

Yet in recent years, the Azerbaijani government’s actions sharply contradict the latter and the spirit of this important Eastern Partnership commitment. Azerbaijan has adopted and enforced laws and regulations that severely restrict, rather than foster, a vibrant civil society. It has eliminated independent media, heavily filtered internet, and imprisoned and otherwise sought to silence independent journalists, civic and political activists who are essential to any kind of civil society envisaged by the Eastern Partnership.

The government’s continued crackdown on civil society and independent media has coincided with negotiations on the new, enhanced bilateral agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan. We firmly believe that the pace of those negotiations should largely depend on the progress Azerbaijan is willing to make in respect for fundamental rights.

Although in 2016 the government released 17 unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders and government critics, their convictions stand, and some face travel restrictions and are unable to do their work without undue government interference; those released on suspended sentences could also be sent back to prison. The authorities continue to use bogus, tax-related, and other politically motivated criminal charges to jail critical journalists and bloggers; at least 11 of them are currently in prison.

Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Freedom Index. In May 2017, unidentified people abducted journalist Afgan Mukhtarli in neighbouring Georgia and illegally brought him to Azerbaijan, where the authorities pressed bogus criminal charges against him. In August, the authorities launched an investigation against Azerbaijan’s last remaining independent news agency, Turan, and a criminal case against its founder and chief editor, Mehman Aliyev, who is now under house arrest on trumped-up tax evasion and other charges. In May 2017, authorities blocked the websites of Azadliq, the newspaper of one of Azerbaijan’s main opposition parties, and of three news outlets that have to operate from abroad: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Azerbaijan Service, Meydan TV, and Azerbaycan Saati. In March, a court sentenced Mehman Huseynov, the chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), and well-known anti-corruption blogger, to two years in prison for allegedly defaming the staff of a police station. Huseynov had publicized how several police officers arbitrarily detained and beat him, and used electric shock against him in January.

Many government critics or political opposition activists remain behind bars. Among them is Ilgar Mammadov, the leader of a pro-democracy opposition movement who in 2013 tried to run for president and who has been in prison since his arrest in early 2013 on fabricated charges of inciting violent protests. The government has ignored a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and defied nearly a dozen resolutions by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe calling for Ilgar Mammadov’s release. On 25 October, the Committee took the unprecedented decision and triggered the infringement proceedings against Azerbaijan, provided by Article 46 § 4 of the European Convention, following its failure to implement the Court’s judgment on Mammadov’s case. The proceedings could eventually lead to the Council of Europe sanctioning Azerbaijan, for example by suspending its voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly.

Non-governmental organisations in Azerbaijan face serious obstacles to operating due to laws and regulations that require both donors and grantees to separately obtain government approval for every grant under consideration. The government has used broad discretion to deny this approval, and the authorities have convicted and imprisoned NGO leaders who failed to obtain it.

In January 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers slightly simplified the procedure by which non-governmental groups must register their funding, but this has not reduced the discretion the authorities have to arbitrarily deny funding approval.

Since 2015, Azerbaijan’s status in two international initiatives has been downgraded due to the government’s failure to meet specific commitments to foster civil society. These include suspension of Azerbaijan’s status by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which promotes revenue transparency in the gas, oil, and mining industries, and downgrading to ‘inactive’ status by the Open Government Partnership, a voluntary initiative promoting government transparency and accountability.

In October 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted two strongly worded resolutions on Azerbaijan, urging the government to cease its unrelenting crackdown against critics.

At a time when the Azerbaijani government’s defiance of its civil-society commitments has prompted two standards-based organisations to downgrade Azerbaijan’s status, and has driven the Council of Europe member states to take unprecedented collective action on Azerbaijan’s blatant breach of the European Convention, the European Union appears eager to conclude a partnership agreement with the government.

The European Union is a values-based institution. While it has common interests with Azerbaijan, shared interests without shared values will not lead to a strong and reliable partnership. Instead, it is likely to lead to a situation in which Azerbaijan believes European values are negotiable. This risk is illustrated by recent investigations by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealing that members of Azerbaijan’s political elite were engaged in establishing and making use of a money laundering scheme and slush fund amounting to USD 2.9 billion, some of which was used to attempt to influence several European politicians to, among other things, whitewash Azerbaijan’s human rights record.

Under these circumstances, it is of the utmost importance that the EU leaders convey the message to President Aliyev that the conclusion of any new agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU, as well as the quality of the EU-Azerbaijan relationship, depends on the Azerbaijani government’s steps to address the EU’s human rights concerns. The EU would send the wrong political message to the Azerbaijani and other governments if it fails to bring meaningful political consequences for the continued detention of critics, human rights defenders and media professionals.

We urge the heads of the EU member states and the EU to abide by the obligations under article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the commitments spelled out in the EU’s Strategic Framework for Human Rights and Democracy to “[…] promote human rights in all areas of its external action without exception”. In the most recent Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, the EU and its member states committed to “promoting stronger positions on civic freedoms and against any reduction in the space for civil society to act.”

During your meeting with President Aliyev, at the Eastern Partnership Summit, we urge you to insist on:

The Immediate and unconditional release of Ilgar Mammadov and the prompt and unconditional release of all other wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders and civil society and political activists who were prosecuted in retaliation for their legitimate activities.
Absolute respect for free speech and media freedoms, including the prompt and unconditional release of all journalists and social media activists wrongfully put in detention; the dropping of all charges against Mehman Aliyev, and an end to the investigation against Turan.
An immediate end to the use of travel bans to arbitrarily restrict freedom of movement and professional activity, including in respect of investigative journalist Khadija Ismaiylova, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, and others.
Reform of laws and regulations on nongovernmental organisations and their access to foreign funding, in accordance with the Venice Commission recommendations.
We thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Signatory organisations:

1. Amnesty International
3. Austrian Helsinki Association – For Human Rights and International Dialogue
4. Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
5. Bir Duino
6. Center for Civil Liberties
7. Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
8. Civil Rights Defenders
9. Crude Accountability
10. FIDH, International Federation for Human Rights
11. Freedom Files
12. Freedom House
13. Front Line Defenders
14. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
15. Human Rights Center “Viasna”
16. Human Rights Center of Republic of Azerbaijan (HRCA)
17. Human Rights Club
18. Human Rights Monitoring Institute
19. Human Rights Watch
20. Index on Censorship
21. Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS)
22. International Media Support (IMS)
23. International Partnership for Human Rights
24. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
25. KRF Public Alternative
26. Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights (Germany/Switzerland)
27. Macedonian Helsinki Committee
28. Moscow Helsinki Group
29. Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI)
30. Netherlands Helsinki Committee
31. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
32. OMCT – World Organisation Against Torture
33. PEN International
34. Public Association “Dignity”
35. Public Verdict Foundation
36. Regional Center for Strategic Studies
37. Reporters Without Borders

Madam Chancellor: Tell Aliyev to respect civil society

Chancellor Angela Merkel
Willy-Brandt-Straße 1
10557 Berlin

Madam Chancellor,

As members of the international NGO coalition ‘Sport for Rights’ we are appealing to you to make human rights a central subject in your meeting next Wednesday, 21 January 2015, with president Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan.

In recent years, space for political activity and for civil society and journalism in Azerbaijan has gradually been curtailed, and the last six months in particular have witnessed a severe and unprecedented crackdown, with dozens of civil society activists and journalists serving or awaiting sentencing. The country’s most prominent investigative journalist and a number of leading human rights defenders are in prison, punished for their criticism of government policies. Sham charges such as ‘tax evasion’ are used to justify the criminalization of fundamental rights and freedoms.

The ‘Sport for Rights’ coalition has been established to raise this issue in the context of the forthcoming international sporting events to be hosted by Azerbaijan. Against a backdrop of systematic state-sponsored repression, these events will fail to reflect the spirit in which they were established. The next major sporting event is the Baku European Games, designed and regulated by the European Olympic Committees, scheduled for June 2015. A policy shift by the Azerbaijan towards an open society is urgently required if these Games are to be a success. Human rights defenders and journalists must be released, and we urge you to emphasize this point in your conversations with President Aliyev.

This issue is all the more important given that Azerbaijan is a member of the European community of nations: the country is a member of the Council of Europe (CoE), and part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Initiative. By ratifying the European Human Rights Convention, Azerbaijan has made a commitment under international law to respect the fundamental freedoms contained therein. CoE officials have repeatedly called attention to Azerbaijan’s failure to uphold these freedoms for its citizens. In his retrospective on 2014, Nils Muiznieks, the CoE Human Rights Commissioner, declared:

One of the most difficult situations I have observed is in Azerbaijan, where the authorities are engaging in a systematic crackdown on human rights defenders, media professionals and civil society partners of the Council of Europe. The number of those in detention there or in exile continues to grow.

President Aliyev may point to token releases that take place from time to time – but please remember that not only are these rare, they are issued only after innocent people have served time in prison, losing months and years of their lives for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression and association.

Among those unjustly arrested or convicted in 2014 are:

  • Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli, co-founders of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre – Mammadli and Suleymanli were arrested on 16 December 2013 and then sentenced to 5.5 and 3.5 years respectively in May 2014, following outspoken criticism of Azerbaijan’s presidential elections in October 2013. On 29 September 2014, Mammadli was awarded the Václav Havel Award for Human Rights by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
  • Leyla Yunus, Director of the Azerbaijan Institute of Peace and Democracy – Yunus was arrested on 30 July2014, and has remained in pre-trial detention since then, despite serious concerns about her health. She was awardedthe 2013 Theodore Hecker Award in Esslingen-am-Neckar “for her self-sacrificing contribution to the protection of human rights and civil freedoms in Azerbaijan.” Her husband Arif Yunus, Head of the Department of Conflict and Migration Institute of Peace and Democracy in Azerbaijan, Ph.D., a historian specializing in conflict studies, was arrested on 6 August 2014.
  • Rasul Jafarov, one of the initiators and coordinators of the “Sing for Democracy” (2012) and “Art for Democracy” (2013) campaigns – Jafarov was arrested on 2 August2014 and has remained in detention since. His trial began on 15 January 2015.
  • Intigam Aliyev, human rights defender and lawyer – Aliyev was has been in detention since his arrest 8 August 2014. In his capacity as a lawyer he has specialized in defending rights of citizens in the European Court of Human Rights. At the time of his arrest, he was dealing with over 100 cases pending before the Court.
  • Khadija Ismayilova, investigative journalist; radio host for Radio Free Europe/Radio LibertyAzerbaijani service; member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project – Ismayilova was arrested on 5 December 2014.

We ask you to unequivocally remind Azerbaijan of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Azerbaijan’s partners should insist that this terrible stainon the country’s human rights record is removed before Baku plays host to the European Games, and that these people be released immediately and unconditionally. Full execution of European Court of Human Rights should also be requested from Azerbaijan in this regard, aiming at amending legislation criminalising human rights defenders in line also with recommendations of the CoE Venice Commission.

We sincerely hope that we can count on your principled leadership on this urgentmatter. We thank you for your attention to the concerns set forth herein.

NGO coalition “Sport for Rights”, including:

  1. Centre for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
  2. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
  3. Index on Censorship (Great Britain)
  4. International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)
  5. Netherlands Helsinki Committee (The Netherlands)
  6. Norwegian Helsinki Committee (Norway)
  7. People in Need (Czech Republic)
  8. Platform (Great Britain)
  9. Youaid Foundation (Poland)
  10. A group of civil society activists from Azerbaijan who wish to remain anonymous out
    of concern for the security of their family members

Azerbaijan: Protest calls on BP to cut ties with Aliyev regime

Protest outside BP HQ in London

Protest outside BP HQ in London (Photo: Dave Coscia)

Protesters called on global oil giant BP to reassess its connections with the regime in Azerbaijan at a gathering outside the company’s London headquarters.

This week marks the anniversary of the signing of the Contract of the Century, when BP began its 20 year relationship with the Aliyev family. The protesters argue that BP’s role in Azerbaijan has provided the former president, Heydar Aliyev, and the current president, his son Ilham, with considerable power and money, facilitating the country’s repressive regime and hampering democracy.

Claire James - Campaign against Climate Change

Claire James – Campaign against Climate Change (Photo: Dave Coscia)

There are currently 98 political prisoners being held in Azerbaijan and the threat of arrest others is also high. Recently, prominent activists Leyla and Arif Yunus and Rasul Jafarov have been jailed, as well as human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev.

Ramute Remezaite, a human rights lawyer who worked in Azerbaijan, told Index on Censorship: “It’s very important to tell BP that it is totally intolerable to cooperate with the government of Azerbaijan, it’s repressing its own people and putting them to prison for reasons such as exercising their fundamental human rights.

Ramute Remezaite - Human rights lawyer

Ramute Remezaite – Human rights lawyer (Photo: Dave Coscia)

“Another reason why it’s very important to be here and to hold this action, is as solidarity with our colleagues in Baku because such an action is impossible these days in Azerbaijan — people standing in front of the BP office in Baku would be immediately arrested and sentenced to one, two, three weeks in prison.”

A group of Azerbaijani civil society organisations plan to send a letter to Bob Dudley, group chief executive of BP, demanding that the company call on the Aliyev government to release all political prisoners, and ensure that other prominent human rights defenders, such as Emin Huseynov, will not face arrest.

Emma Hughes from Platform London, who organised today’s protest, told Index: “We’re here today in solidarity with Azerbaijani civil society who are calling on BP to raise the case of the 98 political prisoners in Azerbaijan and also to drop their sponsorship of the 2015 Baku European Olympic Games.”

Also attending the protest, alongside Platform London and Index on Censorship, were representatives from Campaign Against Climate Change, Article 19 and BP or not BP.

Emma Hughes - Platform London

Emma Hughes – Platform London (Photo:  Dave Coscia)

Claire James, from Campaign Against Climate Change, told Index: “I’m here partly in solidarity with political prisoners but also because our world’s addiction to fossil fuels is overcoming any common sense about what we’re doing to the planet and it should not also be overcoming human rights.”

In conclusion to the letter, Azerbaijani civil society asks that BP ceases its activities in the country until such times as a “democratic and accountable government is in power”.

This article was posted on 17 Sept 2014 at