Azerbaijan: Khadija, On Your Birthday, You Are Not Alone!

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Khadija Ismayilova.jpgBy Ella Shen and Viachaslau “Slava” Bortnik, Eurasia Coordination Group at Amnesty International USA

Renowned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova turns forty on Friday, May 27, celebrating her birthday for the second consecutive year in Baku’s Kurdukhani jail. Prior to the politically motivated charges and her imprisonment, Ismayilova worked as a senior investigator with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and as a political radio host at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Please join Amnesty International in wishing Khadija a happy birthday and declaring your support and solidarity with her. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Journalism Is Not a Crime

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WorldPressFreedom2016

Journalism is not a crime, yet the principles of free speech and a free press are threatened right across the world. To mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, we’re highlighting nine cases of journalists who have been locked up, tortured, threatened or even killed just for speaking out.  SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Azerbaijan: Leyla Yunus Released, but 18 Other Prisoners of Conscience are Still Behind the Bars

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leyla and arif

By Viachaslau “Slava” Bortnik, chair of the Eurasia Coordination Group at Amnesty International USA

Leyla Yunus, one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights defenders and former prisoner of conscience was freed on December 9. The Baku Court of Appeals changed her sentence with a conditional release due to her deteriorated health. The court placed her on probation for the next five years and maintained her guilty verdict, widely denounced as political retaliation for her work. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Azerbaijan: Brutal Crackdown Against Journalists Continues

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By Nic Carter, Amnesty International USA

Over the last year, Azerbaijan has imprisoned dozens of journalists, human rights advocates, bloggers, lawyers, and academics who have criticized the regime. Ilham Aliev’s repressive petro-state has brazenly stepped up its harassment of journalists amidst international criticism. In December, the Aliev regime struck a terrible blow against the freedom of the press by arresting the country’s best-known investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, on fabricated charges. Her pre-trial detention, due to expire on February 5, has been extended for a further two months. Recently, new charges have been brought against her, including embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of power, and tax evasion. She faces 12 years in prison if convicted. Her case has rightfully received a lot of attention. Yet she is only one of an estimated 98 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, of which around a dozen are journalists. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Dear Baku: Stop beating activist. Release her. Drop treason charge!

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Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy

Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy

Arresting its loudest critic and charging her with “treason” doesn’t seem enough for Azerbaijani officials. Last week, peace activist and human rights defender

was beaten by Kurdakhany detention facility administration staff.

An April 2014 video shows Leyla Yunus confronting officials (in Russian) about not having been allowed to use the toilet during an unlawful detention for interrogation. Although officials eventually allowed her to use a toilet (with a male guard watching her), Leyla says she was not informed of charges against her.

Less than half a year later after the detention, Leyla (and soon her husband Arif Yunus) were arrested and given ridiculous charges of treason and tax evasion. Amnesty International considers both Prisoners of Conscience and calls on Baku to release them immediately and unconditionally (add your voice to our appeal).

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“I Did Not Feel Alone, I Knew People Believed in Me”

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Azerbaijani youth activist Jabbar Savalan was released from prison in December 2011 (Photo Credit: IRFS).

Azerbaijani youth activist Jabbar Savalan was released from prison in December 2011 (Photo Credit: IRFS).

Azerbaijani youth activist Jabbar Savalan could hardly believe his eyes the first time guards at the prison brought him a bag full of letters.

They mostly came from people he had never met before, from countries he had never visited. They were all telling him to keep strong and that they were putting pressure on authorities in Azerbaijan to release him.

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Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey: Odd Men Out on Conscientious Objection

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Halil Savda at a Write for Rights event in France on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011 (Photo Credit: Michael Sawyer for Amnesty International).

Halil Savda at a Write for Rights event in France on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011 (Photo Credit: Michael Sawyer for Amnesty International).

This May 15, International Conscientious Objectors Day, is an opportunity to both celebrate the steady acceptance of this fundamental right and to highlight those countries who have not taken the basic steps to protect it.

In Europe for example, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recognized conscientious objection as a protected right in 2011 when, in Bayatyan v Armenia, it ruled that conscientious objection was subject to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  Unfortunately, as an Amnesty statement released today highlights, three European countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, still refuse to accept this basic obligation under international law.

Amnesty’s position on conscientious objection is clear:

The right to conscientious objection to military service is not a marginal concern outside the mainstream of international human rights protection and promotion. The right to conscientious objection is a basic component of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – as articulated in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

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An Ironic Honor: Internet Governance Forum in Azerbaijan

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Policemen Man-handle Activist in Azerbaijan

Three policemen man-handle a political activist during a protest in Baku, Azerbaijan, March 12, 2011. ©IRFS

A United Nations initiative called Internet Governance Forum is about to have its annual forum in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, to discuss, among other issues, freedom of speech.

Yet in Azerbaijan, people who exercise this fundamental right to criticize President Ilham Aliyev, his family or government risk being threatened, attacked or imprisoned – whether they do so on- or off-line.

“They don’t jail all the bloggers. They pick up two or three who go – in their view – too far,” explains Emin Mill, an Azerbaijani digital dissenter who served time in prison for “hooliganism.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Prisoner Without Conscience Pardoned and Promoted

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Ramil Safarov Azerbaijan

Ramil Safarov  (Photo AFP/Getty Images)

An unremorseful axe-murderer was freed and rewarded last Friday after the Azerbaijani government secured military officer Ramil Safarov’s extradition – and de facto release – from Hungary.

Safarov had been serving a life sentence in Hungary for axing – with 16 blows – to death his sleeping Armenian colleague, Gurgen Margaryan, at a 2004 NATO Partnership for Peace course. He then attempted to kill the other Armenian participant, but found a locked door. Safarov proudly admitted to the murder and was convicted to life by a Hungarian court.

While swift to imprison peaceful domestic dissidents, the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, spared no effort to release the criminal, by reportedly showering Hungary with an as much as $3.8 billion loan offer, enabled by the Caspian’s energy riches.

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