Index relies entirely on the support of donors and readers to do its work.
Help us keep amplifying censored voices today.
Journalist Arzu Geybulla has received a growing number of threats on social media following an interview with Azerbaijani news site modern.az.
Geybulla has been subject to ongoing intimidation because of her work at Istanbul-based Armenian paper, Agos. The interview has led to Geybulla being accused of treason by the Azerbaijani media.
Despite calls from the European Parliament in September, Azerbaijan has still failed to release prominent political prisoners Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev and Hasan Huseynli.
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, said: “Azerbaijan portrays itself internationally as a country that values human rights and respects the freedom of its citizens to express themselves. In reality, anyone who seeks to speak or act freely in Azerbaijan is targeted, imprisoned and harassed. The international community needs to take a far tougher stance on Azerbaijan to help defend individuals like Arzu and the defenceless individuals to which her work gives voice.”
Leyla and her husband have now been imprisoned for 73 days. Javarov has been in prison for 70 days since August 2, and Aliyev has been detained for 64 days, since August 8. Huseynli, who has been detained for 195 days since March 30, is serving a six year sentence.
Post on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit or share with your friends. Let @PresidentAZ know you ware watching.
Please send appeals immediately:
— Condemning the campaign of intimidation directed at Arzu Geybullayeva for her legitimate work as a journalist at Agos;
— Calling on the Turkish and Azerbaijani authorities to investigate any threats of violence against her and to ensure her safety;
— Reminding them that they have the obligation to safeguard Geybullayeva’s right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which they are both state parties.
Disregarding the motion by European Parliament earlier this week, Azerbaijan has failed to release political prisoners Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev and Hasan Huseynli.
Leyla and her husband have now been imprisoned for 56 days, since July 30. On September 22, Leyla’s lawyers questioned her current condition after not being allowed into her cell and being denied an opportunity to speak with her on the phone. Guards told the lawyers she was sick and refused to speak with them. In a joint statement the lawyers expressed that the circumstances Leyla is being exposed to in the prison, including being subjected to acts of violence, “raise a lot of concerns”.
Jafarov, now detained for 53 days, since August 2, wrote an appeal earlier this week in which he asserted that he was falsely accused of hiding evidence and not cooperating in the investigation, and that his imprisonment is a result of a government order. “I present my arguments regarding the baselessness of the attribution of each ground to me and the fact that there was a ‘political order,’”he wrote.
Intigam Aliyev has been imprisoned for 47 days, since August 8. Hasan Huseynli, who has been detained for 178 days, since March 30, was recently sentenced to six years in Azerbaijani prison.
These five and 93 other political prisoners held in Azerbaijan were the subject of last week’s Platform London protest outside of BP’s headquarters on September 17. The protest called for BP to end its funding of the authoritarian regime on the anniversary of “the Contract of the Century”. A letter was also given BP, requesting they call on the Aliyev regime to release the 98 political prisoners and that they end their sponsorship of the 2015 Baku European Olympic Games. BP verbally agreed to meet with Platform, but has yet to formally respond to the letter.
The European Parliament has called on Azerbaijan to release several prominent political prisoners and proceed with reforming the country’s human rights policies.
The motion calls for the immediate release of prisoners Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev and Hasan Huseynli. It also asks that the government cease its harassment of civil society organisations, opposition politicians and independent journalists.
Leyla and Arif were arrested at the end of July 2014 and are facing a series of charges which include treason and fraud. On 14 July 2014 Hasan was sentenced to six years in prison, Rasul and Intigam were arrested at the beginning of August 2014. There are currently 98 political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
EU support and cooperation with Azerbaijan, including ongoing negotiations for a Strategic Modernisation Partnership, must be conditional upon and include clauses relating to protection of human rights, states the text from the session.
It does not take a lot of time and effort to see that when it comes to Azerbaijan, views on the country’s freedom of expression record split in two. One–belonging to the president and his cronies–and their limited vision of reality combined with their persistent disregard of truth. And the other–the disregarded citizens–whose life is like an ongoing challenge full of obstacles–arrests, intimidation, murder, detention, beatings and blackmail to name a few. The levels of this marathon get harder to win and even then, there is a price to pay, sooner or later.
Stellar record vs stark reality
President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan says, “All fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in Azerbaijan. There are free media and free internet”. International advocates of free speech and their Azerbaijani supporters claim otherwise. Azerbaijan ranks 160th on the World Press Freedom Index; 183rd on the Freedom House Press Freedom Index; and “partly free” on Freedom on the Net report. The list only goes on.
Currently there are at least ten journalists in detention or prison serving long and heavy sentences. There are five bloggers, 8 youth activists and civil society representatives similarly in jail on trumped up charges. According to Amnesty International in 2013, there were at least 19 prisoners of conscience behind bars in Azerbaijan. Just today, human rights defender Leyla Yunus was detained in Baku.
And if the end result of a certain type of work/affiliation/statement/ or action isn’t necessarily time spent in jail, people are often threatened, intimidated, and even blackmailed- the list of “punishments” is creative and has no limits.
One of the country’s prominent investigative journalists, Khadija Ismayil had her share of a punishment for digging out the truth. In March of 2012, Ismayil received a package where not only was she sent a letter full of belittlement and blasphemy but also a video tape of intimate nature of her personal life.
More recently the head of a local NGO from Ganja, Hasan Huseynli was sentenced to six years in jail for allegedly stabbing a man on the street.
Only days following sentencing of Huseynli, two more young men and brothers Faraj and Siraj Kerimli were detained (Faraj was in fact kidnapped) and currently are held in pretrial detention for yet another trumped up charge–drugs possession and promotion of psychedelics via social networks.
There is free media and free speech only if its pro-government media and speech. Most of the working printed papers are either government sponsored, supported, or have cut a deal of some kind.
The internet is the remaining platform for free speech and even online there is surveillance and control. Some independent online outlets have been subject to attacks while users of social media tools are shown their correspondence on Facebook when detained for questioning.
And so the government continues to play the game of cat and mouse while disguising its dismal record of free speech and human rights under the pretext of being a young democracy, in conflict with a neighboring country, and thus occupied by far more pressing issues than addressing biased reports of international organizations on poor record of human rights and free speech.
Index Reports: Locking up free expression: Azerbaijan silences critical voices (Oct 2013) | Running Scared: Azerbaijan’s silenced voices (Mar 2012)