#IndexAwards2019: Mehman Huseynov refuses to look away from Azerbaijan’s human rights violations

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/d40JdCJTbw8″][vc_column_text]

Mehman Huseynov is a journalist and human rights defender who documents corruption and human rights violations in Azerbaijan, consistently ranked among the world’s worst countries for press freedom.

He was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 — after describing abuses he had suffered at a police station.

As independent journalist, vlogger, and editor-in-chief of the political magazine SANCAQ, Huseynov has put his life in danger to document largely sensitive issues. His work circulated widely on the internet, informing citizens about the real estate and business empires of the country’s government officials, and scrutinising the decisions of president Ilham Aliyev.

Huseynov was first arrested in 2012 for his role in the Sing for Democracy protests against the profligate spending on the 2012 Eurovision contest in Baku, and since then has been regularly interrogated by authorities, who imposed a travel ban on him and confiscated his documents – preventing access to services like health-care and education. In 2013, Huseynov was awarded one of the Fritt Ord Foundation’s and the ZEIT Foundation’s press prizes for his courageous journalism.

Azerbaijan is an authoritarian country in which power is heavily concentrated in the hands of president Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the country since 2003. There is little room for independent expression or activism, and critical journalists, civil society leaders and human rights advocates face harassment, violence and detention.

On 9 January 2017 plain-clothes officers attacked Huseynov, blindfolded and gagged him with towels, forced a bag over his head and took him to the Nasimi district police station, where police used an electroshock weapon on his groin and punched him.

On 17 October 2018, Baku Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal against the denial of parole.

Before his release from prison in March 2019, Huseynov remained defiant, saying: “I am not here only for myself; I am here so that your children are not in my place tomorrow. If you uphold the judgement against me, you have no guarantees that you and your children will not be in my place tomorrow.”[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”104691″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” link=”https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2019/01/awards-2019/”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

2019 Freedom of Expression Awards

Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards exist to celebrate individuals or groups who have had a significant impact fighting censorship anywhere in the world.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1552914689259-de127fad-fb34-7″ taxonomies=”26925″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Azerbaijani journalist and human rights activist Mehman Huseynov released from prison


Mehman Huseynov

Mehman Huseynov (Twitter)

Index on Censorship welcomes the release of Azerbaijani journalist and human rights activist Mehman Huseynov.

“We are extremely happy to hear that Mehman has been released. His imprisonment for his journalism marked a low-point for an already repressive government. We call on Azerbaijan’s authorities to respect freedom of expression by releasing journalists and human rights activists from prison,” said Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship.

Huseynov has been nominated for a 2019 Freedom of Expression Award in the journalism category. He was released on 2 March after serving a two-year sentence for defamation.

Huseynov has documented corruption and human rights violations in Azerbaijan, consistently ranked among the world’s worst countries for press freedom.

Despite official harassment, his work is circulated widely on the internet, informing citizens about the real estate and business empires of the country’s government officials, and scrutinised the decisions of president Ilham Aliyev.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”104522″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

2019 Freedom of Expression Awards

Mehman Huseynov has been shortlisted in the journalism category for the Index Awards 2019. Find out more.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1551714277205-61565068-5c53-6″ taxonomies=”8935, 7145″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Azerbaijan takes step in right direction by dropping new charges against Mehman Huseynov

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship welcomes reports that new criminal charges against Azerbaijani journalist and human rights defender Mehman Huseynov have been dropped.

Mehman Huseynov is short-listed for the Index Freedom of Expression Awards 2019 in the journalism category “for courageous, high-impact and determined journalism that exposes censorship and threats to free expression”.

However, he remains in prison on a previous conviction, widely seen as politically motivated. International organisations continue to call for his release.

Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship said “Index is pleased that the new charges against Mehman Huseynov have reportedly been dropped, but he should not remain in prison on the earlier, unjustified charges. We urge Azerbaijan to free Mehman Huseynov immediately.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1548234806594-889c5f6f-f3c7-0″ taxonomies=”4742, 5113″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Escalating repression against Mehman Huseynov

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”104696″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]We 39 human rights organisations from 13 Human Rights Houses call for urgent action from the international community to ensure the life, health, and rights of imprisoned Azerbaijani photojournalist, video blogger, and human rights defender Mehman Huseynov. We are deeply concerned about his critical condition and his imprisonment, and the psychological pressure and new criminal charges pursued against him. We urge the international community to raise this case as a priority in communications with the Azerbaijani authorities and show public support for Mehman Huseynov.

Mehman Huseynov began a hunger strike on 26 December 2018 in protest against facing further criminal charges – charges that we and many others, including the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, consider to not be credible. Since 2012, Mehman Huseynov has been subject to a travel ban and without identification and official documentation, preventing him from accessing public services such as healthcare and education. He has also faced harassment and pressure, but actions against him have escalated dramatically in the past two years, beginning with reports that he was abducted and tortured in police custody on 9 January 2017.

Following this abduction, Mehman Huseynov reported that he was tortured – which is consistent with the findings of an examination by an independent team of medical doctors, sent from Front Line Defenders and the Georgian Centre of Psychological and Medical Rehabilitation for Torture. He was sentenced to two years in prison for defamation on 3 March 2017 for stating that he was tortured. We regret that he was imprisoned when he should have received support and his allegations of abduction and torture investigated. Still in prison, he now faces new criminal charges for alleged violence against a member of prison staff. We are particularly concerned about the credibility of this allegation, in context of previous arbitrary actions against Mehman Huseynov – and indications that since August 2018 he has been under psychological pressure in prison and the basis laid for further charges against him.

The actions taken against Mehman Huseynov appear to be politically motivated and strongly linked to his legitimate work raising awareness of human rights and issues related to corruption. These actions have led directly to his current severe condition, as with seemingly no access to justice and arbitrary restriction of his freedom, Mehman Huseynov saw no other option than to go on hunger strike on 26 December 2018. Further contributing to his condition, we note that while Mehman Huseynov was allowed to attend his late Mother’s funeral in August 2018, he was prevented from visiting her while she was alive and ill in hospital – on accusations that he has not participated in “corrective work”, namely the prison’s “social life”, “cultural events”, and “maintenance work.” These accusations also surfaced during Mehman Huseynov’s hearing on application for parole in August 2018. During the hearing, Mehman Huseynov told that he had been summoned by the prison administration and made to understand that he could be punished for explaining rights to other prisoners. He explained that he decided to stay apart from others for this reason. We worry that the decision by authorities to prevent Mehman Huseynov from visiting his dying mother has taken its toll on him.

Years of escalating pressure by authorities has forced an ambitious young man wanting to improve Azerbaijani society to now be in a critical condition in prison. This is a situation that has gone too far, for both Mehman Huseynov and for Azerbaijan.

With urgency, we call on the international community to raise the following with Azerbaijani authorities in support of Mehman Huseynov.

  • Mehman Huseynov needs to be transferred to a civilian hospital to be examined by independent medical professionals – with treatment of his health taking utmost priority.
  • His right to visits and meetings with his lawyers and family members must be respected, and the international community must be allowed to visit him. We caution against reports being disseminated by Azerbaijani officials with regard to a “monitoring group of NGOs” named the “National Preventive Group of the Azerbaijani Ombudsman” visiting Mehman Huseynov in prison. While this visit has taken place, we hold that these NGOs are not independent of the authorities.
  • The prosecution service must drop the new criminal charges put forward under 317.2 of the Azerbaijan Criminal Code as they lack credibility.
  • Mehman Huseynov must be released from prison at the latest when his sentence for defamation ends on 2 March 2019.
  • The escalation against Mehman Huseynov has an aim, and that is to silence him. We are particularly worried that the next step for the authorities may be to take measures aimed at silencing Mehman Huseynov more permanently, pressuring him by offering to drop the charges against him in return for him leaving Azerbaijan for exile or signing that he will put an end to his legitimate work, as this has been the issue in previous cases. We fear such measures may be put to him under duress and while he may be in a diminished capacity to make decisions. He must not be forced to take such action, and he needs protection from the international community in this regard.
  • Human rights lawyers in Azerbaijan must be protected and free to do their work without pressure, harassment or retaliation. As outlined in a June 2017 Human Rights Council resolution, lawyers must be able to “discharge their functions freely, independently and without any fear of reprisal”. This is not the case in Azerbaijan, where lawyers who take politically sensitive cases face threats and disbarment. The result is that only a handful of human rights lawyers remain licensed to practice from the Bar Association of Azerbaijan. One lawyer representing Mehman Huseynov was suspended from the Bar in 2018. We are deeply concerned the same actions may be taken in retaliation against the two lawyers continuing to represent Mehman Huseynov. They need protection from the international community.

We also ask members of the international community to:

  • Visit Mehman Huseynov in prison to enquire and report directly on his condition, challenging the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that such visits are possible.
  • Show public support for Mehman Huseynov and publicly respond to the new charges.

The following member organisations from the network Human Rights Houses call for support from the international to ensure the life, health, and rights of Mehman Huseynov.

Human Rights House Azerbaijan (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center
  • Legal Education Society
  • Women’s Association for Rational Development (WARD)

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, Vilnius (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Belarusian PEN Centre

Human Rights House Belgrade (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
  • Gradjanske (Civic Initiatives)

Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Ahalar
  • Almenda
  • Association of Ukrainian human rights monitors on Law Enforcement
  • East-SOS
  • Chernihiv public committee of human rights protection
  • Human Rights Information Centre
  • MART
  • No Borders Project
  • Postup
  • Transcarpathian Public Center
  • Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Human Rights House Crimea (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Almenda
  • Crimean Human Rights Group
  • Human Rights Information Centre
  • Regional Centre for Human Rights

Human Rights House Oslo (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Den norske Burmakomité (The Norwegian Burma Committee)
  • Fellesrådet for Afrika (The Norwegian Council for Africa)
  • Health and Human Rights Info
  • Human Rights House Foundation
  • Kvinnefronten (The Women’s Front)

Human Rights House Tbilisi (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Article 42 of the Constitution
  • Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (GCRT)
  • Human Rights Centre (HRIDC)
  • Media Institute
  • Sapari

Human Rights House Voronezh (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Interregional Human Rights Group (Voronezh)
  • Charitable Foundation “International Project – Youth Human Rights Movement”

Human Rights House Zagreb (signed by these member NGOs):

  • Association for Promotion of Equal Opportunities (APEO)
  • a.B.e. (Be active. Be emancipated.)
  • Center for Peace Studies
  • Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity – CROSOL
  • Documenta – Center for Dealing with the Past

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland

Index on Censorship, United Kingdom

Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, Norway

Russian Research Centre for Human Rights, Russia[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1547220388132-791b0ba5-0ebf-4″][/vc_column][/vc_row]