Azerbaijan: Human rights lawyer spends second birthday in prison

Intigam Aliyev

Intigam Aliyev

Intigam Aliyev, a human rights defender and a lawyer who specialised in defending the rights of Azerbaijani citizens before the European Court of Human Rights, is spending his second birthday in prison.

“All our thoughts are with Intigam as he spends yet another birthday in jail,” Index on Censorship senior advocacy officer Melody Patry said.

In April 2015, Aliyev was sentenced to 7.5 years imprisonment for illegal business activities, tax evasion and abuse of power. The case was widely condemned as being politically motivated by Azerbaijan’s government.

Aliyev, who ran the Azerbaijan-base Legal Research Institute, was one of a score of prominent human rights activists and journalists who were arrested and subjected to show trials in 2014 and 2015. A new report details the judicial harassment that Azerbaijan’s civil society has been subjected to.

Take action: Send your birthday wishes to Intigam Aliyev

Anniversary of human rights defender’s arrest marks year of unprecedented repression in Azerbaijan

Leyla Yunus (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

Leyla Yunus was arrested on 30 July 2014. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

A year after the Azerbaijani government launched an unprecedented crackdown on human rights, the situation in the country continues to deteriorate.

One year ago, on 30 July 2014, Azerbaijani human rights defender Leyla Yunus was arrested and charged with treason, fraud, forgery, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship. Yunus, the Director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, was a tireless rights advocate, likely targeted for her work on behalf of Azerbaijan’s many political prisoners, and her call for a boycott of the inaugural European Games, which took place in Baku in June 2015.

Yunus’s arrest marked the start of a period of unprecedented repression in Azerbaijan. The human rights situation in the country has now reached alarming lows as the authorities aggressively pursue the very individuals who worked to defend those already targeted for expressing critical opinions.

On 2 August 2014, human rights defender and founder of the Sport for Rights campaign Rasul Jafarov was arrested on charges of illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of power. On 5 August 2014, Leyla Yunus’s husband Arif Yunus, a historian and activist in his own right, was arrested, followed by human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev on 8 August 2014, on similar charges.

Also on 8 August 2014, authorities searched and closed the office of Azerbaijan’s leading press freedom organisation, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), as part of a wider criminal investigation into a large group of NGOs working on issues related to democracy and human rights. IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov sought refuge in the Swiss Embassy in Baku, where he remained for 10 months, fearing arrest. On 12 June, Huseynov flew out of Azerbaijan on the plane of Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, who attended the opening ceremony of the European Games in Baku.

For many years now, the Azerbaijani authorities have employed a range of tactics to silence critical voices, from physical attacks and torture to blackmail and imprisonment. In Huseynov’s case, however, they introduced an outrageous new tactic. In an unprecedented step, in violation of international and Azerbaijani law, the government stripped Huseynov of his Azerbaijani citizenship. He has become a stateless person, left with no choice but to apply for asylum in Switzerland.


Azerbaijan: Silencing human rights

Ongoing coverage of the crackdown on civil society by the government of President Ilham Aliyev

Many other human rights defenders and journalists have fled Azerbaijan out of fear for their safety. The Sport for Rights coalition fears that without widespread international condemnation, the same tactic could be applied to others, with the nationality of “unwelcome” activists renounced.

“The international community must keep its focus on Azerbaijan as the worst for the bravest, independent-minded individuals – both the ones remaining on the ground and those forced into exile – may be yet to come”, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “The Azerbaijani regime is known for punishing its critics in the aftermath of the global mega events it has hosted, and the illegal, retaliatory renouncing of Emin Huseynov’s citizenship is an illustration of that. So is the harassment of the few remaining independent journalists in the country and the intimidation of the families of those pushed into exile”.

In a renewed assault against civil society, the Azerbaijani authorities have increasingly been targeting the family members of exiled activists. Ganimat Zahid, the editor-in-chief of Azadliq newspaper who has been in political exile since being forced to flee Azerbaijan in 2011, has seen the persecution of family members who remain in the country. His cousin and two nephews were arrested on charges varying from “refusing to comply with police instructions” to drug possession. Most recently, on 23 July, the authorities arrested the brother-in-law of Emin Milli – the Director of Meydan TV and a whistleblower in political exile – on similar drug charges. He faces up to 12 years in jail if convicted.

“This is a clear and worrying escalation of the Azerbaijani authorities’ crackdown on free expression”, said ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Thomas Hughes. “When those reporting the truth do not bend to intimidation, the authorities start detaining their family members and loved ones as a way to silence criticism entirely. This is a completely unacceptable attack on human rights in general, and specifically on free speech”.

Now, as international media attention has shifted from the country following the European Games, the broader human rights crackdown continues. The jailed Azerbaijani rights defenders are facing show trials marred by irregularity and due process violations, carried out by a judiciary that completely lacks independence. Although the charges against these rights defenders are spurious and politically motivated, they have no hope of fair and impartial trials.

On 15 July, a preparatory hearing was held in the case of Leyla and Arif Yunus, with the substantive portion starting on 27 July. After nearly a year of pre-trial detention, Leyla Yunus appeared ill and fatigued, and was kept in an isolated glass cage during the hearing. It was also the first time she has seen her husband Arif after many months of separation in different detention facilities.

On 21 July, the Baku Court of Appeals upheld the 22 April decision of the Court of Grave Crimes in the case of award-winning human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, leaving him in jail to finish his 7.5-year sentence. Aliyev was one of the few lawyers in Azerbaijan willing to take on human rights cases. He has filed hundreds of cases with the European Court of Human Rights, and had more than a dozen cases pending hearing at the time of his arrest.

“Intiqam Aliyev, the 2012 laureate of People in Need’s Homo Homini Award, is one of the bravest and most honest lawyers in the region, and has been punished solely for his human rights work. His continued imprisonment, following a sham trial, is a sad reminder that Azerbaijan’s justice system is broken and completely dependent on the political will of the government”, said Ivana Skalova, head of the East European Programme at the Prague-based NGO People in Need.

On 24 July, a preparatory hearing took place in the case of award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, jailed since December 2014 on charges of inciting someone to attempt suicide, with more serious charges later added of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of power. Ismayilova was one of the few journalists in Azerbaijan willing to cover risky topics such as corruption of the ruling elite.

“We condemn the ongoing imprisonment of Khadija, who has spent nearly eight months in detention as authorities attempt to suppress the most vibrant voices reporting from Azerbaijan”, said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN American Center. “The charges against her are clearly fabricated, and we urge the government to respect the right to freedom of expression and allow her and other independent journalists to do their jobs freely”.

On 31 July, Rasul Jafarov will appeal the 16 April decision of the Court of Grave Crimes, sentencing him to 6.5 years in jail. He is also prohibited from holding any office for three years. During the first-instance trial, all of the prosecution’s witnesses testified in his favour, and the prosecution failed to prove his guilt. After the verdict, Jafarov reiterated that the charges against him were fabricated and politically motivated.

As Chairman of the Human Rights Club and founder of the Sing for Democracy, Art for Democracy, and Sport for Rights campaigns, Jafarov worked to defend the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Just prior to his arrest in August 2014, he had published information on more than 100 cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

As members of the Sport for Rights coalition, we urge the Azerbaijani authorities to cease this crackdown and take concrete steps to improve the human rights situation in the country. We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev, and Khadija Ismayilova, along with the other jailed journalists and human rights defenders. We further express deep concern at the severe deterioration in health of Leyla and Arif Yunus, who require urgent medical attention and should be immediately released on humanitarian, if not political grounds.

We also urge the international community to sustain attention to Azerbaijan in the coming months, as the few critical voices left in the country are at elevated risk in the aftermath of the European Games and in the run-up to the November parliamentary elections. Immediate and concrete action is needed to protect and support these individuals and to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its international human rights obligations.

Supporting organisations:



Committee to Protect Journalists

Index on Censorship

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

International Media Support

Pen American Centre

People in Need


Solidarity with Belarus Information Office

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Rebecca Vincent: Britain’s next prime minister must use European Games to stand up for human rights in Azerbaijan

From top left: Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Leyla Yunus, Khadija Ismayilova, Intigam Aliyev and

From top left: Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Leyla Yunus, Khadija Ismayilova, Intigam Aliyev and Anar Mammadli – some of the government critics jailed on trumped up charges in Azerbaijan

For the first time since the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, the oil-rich, rights-poor nation of Azerbaijan is drawing widespread international attention. This June, the country is poised to host the inaugural European Games, which will bring an estimated 6,000 athletes from 50 countries to the capital city of Baku to compete in 20 sports.

Ahead of the games, the Azerbaijani regime has spent a great deal of time and money to promote a positive image abroad. At home, however, it is engaged in a brutal human rights crackdown. This has particularly intensified over the past year, as the authorities have worked aggressively to silence all forms of criticism and dissent.

Dozens of democracy activists are now in prison, including celebrated investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova who was given this year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, and Leyla Yunus, one of the country’s most prominent human rights defenders. They, and many others, have been jailed on spurious charges, with some facing prison sentences of up to 12 years. Meanwhile, press freedom campaigner Emin Huseynov is trapped in the Swiss embassy in Baku, facing arrest if he leaves. These individuals have been targeted for their work defending the rights of others and telling the truth about the situation in their country.

So far, the European Olympic Committees has been happy to look the other way, stating that was “not the EOC’s place to challenge or pass judgment on the legal or political processes of a sovereign nation”. Likewise, the event sponsors do not seem bothered: BP stated that “seeking to influence the policies of sovereign governments” was not part of its role. The Sport for Rights campaign hopes, however, that the next prime minister will think twice.

The Sport for Rights campaign's take on Baku European Games mascots Jeyran and Nar. (Image: Sport for Rights)

The Sport for Rights campaign’s take on Baku European Games mascots Jeyran and Nar. (Image: Sport for Rights)

As members of the campaign, Article 19, Index on Censorship, and Platform have written to the leaders of the UK’s Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Green parties on the eve of the general election. The campaign urged them to make statements condemning the on-going attacks on human rights and calling for the release of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

Sport for Rights also called on the party leaders to make their participation in the opening ceremony of the games contingent upon the release of the country’s jailed journalists and human rights defenders. This is not a call for a boycott of the games by athletes or the public, but a request for the next prime minister not to miss a key opportunity to take an important stand.

In the face of growing repression in Azerbaijan, the response from the British government has so far been weak and sporadic. Statements are occasionally made; the most recent expressed that the UK was “dismayed” by the sentencing of human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, but stopped short of calling for his release, as did the previous statement conveying that the UK was “deeply troubled” by the sentencing of human rights defender Rasul Jafarov. But beyond statements, little else has been done — at least in the public eye.

For a country so intent on promoting its image as a modern, glamorous, international player, key political figures taking a public stand on human rights issues would have a real chance of impacting positive, democratic change. The European Games presents a timely opportunity for the next prime minister to do just that, sending the clear signal that human rights are important in the bilateral relationship.

Conversely, attendance by the prime minister at the opening ceremony of the games in the current climate, without securing the release of the jailed journalists and human rights defenders, would only serve to effectively endorse an increasingly authoritarian regime. In helping to whitewash Azerbaijan’s ever-worsening image, the UK would only end up tarnishing its own.

This article was posted on 6 May 2015 at

Azerbaijan must release human rights defenders, journalists and activists

Mr Ilham Aliyev
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan Avenue 7
1005 Baku
Republic of Azerbaijan
Fax: +994124923543 and +994124920625
Email: [email protected]

Mr President,

We, the undersigned members and partners of the Human Rights House Network (HRHN) and the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders, are dismayed by the sentences upheld against human rights defender Rasul Jafarov and against human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, two prominent and internationally respected voices of the Azerbaijani civil society. We call upon the Azerbaijani authorities, through you, Mr President, to put an end to the unprecedented repression against civil society.

We call upon you to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, journalists and activists currently detained, including and especially human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev and the journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Anar Mammadli must also be released, as his detention is solely due to his non-governmental organisation’s monitoring of elections in the Azerbaijan.

During the summer and fall of 2014 the main leaders of civil society were arrested. Many others decided to flee the country, rather than facing court hearings, of which the outcome is well known in advance. A few others have been forced into hiding.

On 22 April 2015, the Court for Grave Crimes in Baku sentenced Intigam Aliyev to 7 years and 6 months of detention on bogus charges of illegal business, misappropriation, tax evasion, abuse of office and forgery. Although Intigam Aliyev’s defence brought documentation to the court that all his grants were registered, as of the entry into force of such an obligation for NGOs in Azerbaijan, in violation of basic principles in regard to freedom of association as found by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. We denounce the sentencing of Intigam Aliyev and believe the charges brought against him are politically motivated, and a direct consequence of his human rights work .

Intigam Aliyev is one of the most widely-respected human rights lawyers in Azerbaijan and leader of the Legal Education Society, an organization that both promotes awareness of the law and provides legal support to individuals and organizations, The Legal Education Society is a member of the Human Rights House Azerbaijan. Intigam Aliyev is also a lawyer active regionally, including by his participation in the Human Rights House Network’s International Law in Advocacy Programme.

Intigam Aliyev has strived for the legal protection of victims of human rights violations for more than 15 years and has to date represented them in proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights in more than 200 cases (around 40 cases are currently awaiting decision). When he was detained, he was defending more than 140 people in the Court. By detaining Intigam Aliyev the Azerbaijani authorities also deprive their citizens the right to appeal and seek justice before the Court.

In detention, Intigam Aliyev’s health condition has deteriorated and remains inadequately addressed by detention authorities. His conditions prior to his pre-trial detention since 8 August 2014 have continuously gotten worse, giving a strong indication that in fact the medication he is receiving in detention only addresses his pain and not his illness. We believe Intigam Aliyev’s detention conditions might have irremediable consequences on his health.

In the backdrop of an unprecedented repression against civil society in Azerbaijan, charges were also brought against many other human rights defenders, journalists and activists in Azerbaijan, either sentenced or held on pre-trial detention, such as Leyla Yunus, and her husband, Arif Yunus, Anar Mammadli, Rauf Mirkadirov and Hilal Mammadov, Tofiq Yaqublu, Ilgar Mammadov, various NIDA activists, as well as investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Charges are also brought against many human rights NGOs, such as the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and human rights defenders either forced into hiding, such as IRFS’s leader Emin Huseynov, or have left the country.

On 16 April 2015, the human rights defender Rasul Jafarov was sentenced to 6.5 years imprisonment, also on similar charges as Intigam Aliyev. The court ignored that out of the many so-called “victims” who were interrogated by the court did in fact have no knowledge of any damage supposedly committed by Rasul Jafarov against them. We also denounce the sentencing of Rasul Jafarov and believe the charges brought against him are politically motivated, due to his human rights work.

Rasul Jafarov is a widely respected human rights defender and advocate on the issue of wrongful imprisonment in Azerbaijan. After forming the Human Rights Club in December 2010. He is the initiator of the human rights and democracy campaign “Sing for Democracy,” as well as “Art for Democracy” and later in preparation of the upcoming European Olympic Games to be held in Baku in June 2015, the campaign “Sport for Rights.”

We call upon the Azerbaijani authorities, through you, Mr President, to put an end to the unprecedented repression against civil society in your country. We specifically call upon you to immediately and unconditionally release all above mentioned civil society actors, and drop all charges
held against them.

Yours sincerely,

Human Rights House Azerbaijan:
• Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan
• Due to the risk of retaliation against Azerbaijani human rights defenders, we decided not to indicate the names of other Azerbaijani NGOs who would be signing this letter.

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House in exile, Vilnius (on behalf of the following NGOs):
• Belarus Watch (ByWatch)
• Belarusian Association of Journalists
• Belarusian Helsinki Committee
• Belarusian PEN Centre
• City Public Association “Centar Supolnasc”
• Human Rights Centre “Viasna”

Human Rights House Belgrade (on behalf of the following NGOs):
• Lawyers Committee for Human Rights YUCOM

Education Human Rights House Chernihiv (on behalf of the following NGOs):
• Chernihiv Public Committee of Human Rights Protection
• Center of Humnistic Tehnologies “AHALAR”
• Center of Public Education “ALMENDA”
• Human Rights Center “Postup”
• Local Non-governmental Youth organizations М’АRТ
• Transcarpathian Public Center
• Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Human Rights House Kyiv (on behalf of the following NGOs):
• Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement
• Center for Civil Liberties
• Civil Service
• Human Rights Information Center
• Institute of Mass Information
• International Women’s Rights Center
• Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
• Social Action Center
• Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
• Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation

Human Rights House Oslo (on behalf of the following NGOs):
• Human Rights House Foundation
• Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Human Rights House Tbilisi (on behalf of the following NGOs):
• Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims

Human Rights House Voronezh (on behalf of the following NGOs):
• Charitable Foundation
• Civic Initiatives Development Centre
• Confederation of Free Labor
• For Ecological and Social Justice
• Free University
• Golos
• Interregional Trade Union of Literary Men
• Lawyers for labor rights
• Memorial
• Ms. Olga Gnezdilova
• Soldiers Mothers of Russia
• Voronezh Journalist Club
• Voronezh-Chernozemie
• Youth Human Rights Movement

Human Rights House Zagreb (on behalf of the following NGOs):
• APEO/UPIM Association for Promotion of Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities
• B.a.B.e.
• CMS – Centre for Peace Studies
• Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past
• GOLJP – Civic Committee for Human Rights
• Svitanje – Association for Protection and Promotion of Mental Health

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR), Poland

Index on Censorship, United Kingdom

Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy, Azerbaijan

Resource Centre for Human Rights, Moldova

Copies to:
• Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe
• Private Office of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe
• Delegation of the Council of Europe in Azerbaijan
• United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
• United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly
• Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE ODIHR)
• Cabinet of Commissioner Johannes Hahn for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement
• Delegation of the European Union in Azerbaijan
• Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament
• Diplomatic community in Baku, Brussels, Geneva, New York and Strasbourg
• Various ministries of foreign affairs and parliamentary committees on foreign affairs
About the Human Rights House Network (

The Human Rights House Network (HRHN) unites 90 human rights NGOs joining forces in 18 independent Human Rights Houses in 13 countries in Western Balkans, Eastern Europe and South Caucasus, East and Horn of Africa, and Western Europe. HRHN’s aim is to protect, empower and support human rights organisations locally and unite them in an international network of Human Rights Houses.

The Human Rights House Azerbaijan is one of the members of HRHN and served as an independent meeting place, a resource centre, and a coordinator for human rights organisations in Azerbaijan. In 2010, 6’000 human rights defenders, youth activists, independent journalists, and lawyers, used the facilities of the Human Rights House Azerbaijan, which has become a focal point for promotion and protection of human rights in Azerbaijan. The Human Rights House Azerbaijan ceased all its activities following an order of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan on 10 March 2011.