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

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).

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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

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.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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

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.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

An Ironic Honor: Internet Governance Forum in Azerbaijan

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

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.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Sara Hickman: Why I Am Not Going to Eurovision

Policemen Man-handle Activist in Azerbaijan

Policemen man-handle a political activist during a protest in Baku, Azerbaijan, March 12, 2011. Azerbaijan is the host of the 2012 Eurovision song contest. ©IRFS

By Sara Hickman, Official State Musician of Texas

I have declined an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a beautiful country and witness the world’s most-watched cultural event. That’s because my trip to Azerbaijan for Eurovision this week would be sponsored by a government responsible for grave human rights violations.  

Amnesty International has been diligently shining a light on human rights abuses in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, which gets to host this year’s popular European concert competition – Eurovision. Azerbaijan has over a dozen recently-arrested prisoners of conscience, oppressed press, and almost no permitted political rallies.  I would love to visit Azerbaijan, but not at the expense of indirect association with human rights violations. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Can a Song Contest Help End Human Rights Abuses in Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan's Ell and Nikki celebrate with co-performers after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2011. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

By Max Tucker, Azerbaijan campaigner at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London

One year ago, a series of peaceful protests against government repression in Azerbaijan were met with brute force by the authorities. The clampdown that followed resulted in the imprisonment of 17 activists and political figures, 14 of whom (including Tural Abbasli) are still behind bars today.

Shortly afterwards, on 14 May, Azerbaijan’s entry “Running Scared” won the Eurovision song contest, giving Azerbaijan the right to host the 2012 competition.

This was a doubly ironic event.

Firstly, the Eurovision Song Contest celebrates free expression, and is run by the European Broadcasting Union, an organization which claims to champion media freedom. Yet Azerbaijan has one of the worst environments for media and free expression in Europe.

Secondly, the title of Azerbaijan’s entry, “Running Scared,” is exactly what we saw scores of peaceful protesters doing when we visited Azerbaijan only a few weeks earlier, as they were pursued by heavy handed police. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Sharing the Pain of a War Jon Stewart Doesn't Remember

“I don’t even remember this war,” said comedian Jon Stewart on The Daily Show on February 13, 2012 after his interviewee mentioned the post-Soviet Armenian-Azerbaijani fight for the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s, an unresolved conflict that has claimed tens of thousands lives and displaced over a million people.

If Stewart is reading this, he should visit www.ourpain.org to commemorate the victims of the war, especially since February was the worst month of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

February 26, 1988, saw the beginning of a pogrom targeting the Armenian population of the Azerbaijani town of Sumgait, arguably setting the stage for the war. Exactly four years later, Azerbaijani civilians were killed during the Armenian takeover of  the town of Khojaly in the largest massacre of the war. And on February 19, 2004, an Azerbaijani officer, displaced due to the war,  murdered his Armenian counterpart at a NATO training in Europe.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Jabbar Savalan Freed!

“We will not be scared off by imprisonment or punishment. They may arrest us, but they can’t break us. Freedom of speech is our right, as it is the right of everyone. We will continue our struggle.” – Jabbar Savalan

Jabbar Savalan, an Azerbaijani student who spent almost 11 months in prison for a Facebook post, has been released!  He was freed after receiving a presidential pardon on December 26th.

Obviously the release of a prisoner of conscience is always a cause for celebration. We are delighted for Jabbar and his family. It is important now that his conviction is quashed and his reputation restored.

His case was part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, during which hundreds of thousands of people in over 80 countries come together and take action to demand that peoples’ rights are respected. Over one million appeals were made as part of the 2011 marathon prior to Jabbar Savalan’s release.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST