Azerbaijan Doesn't Like Your Facebook Status

Jabbar Savalan has been jailed for two months pending trial on drugs charges © IRFS

The three-week grassroots protest in Egypt that brought down thirty years of autocracy in the land of the pyramids has authoritarian Azerbaijan, among others, worried.

Amnesty International’s latest statement on Azerbaijan – which, ironically, has a statue of Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian-Azerbaijani Friendship park in capital Baku – details the arrest of a youth activist:

Jabbar Savalan, a 20 19-year-old student, was arrested [on his way home from a political meeting and charged with “possessing narcotics with intent to supply”] in Sumgayit, Azerbaijan, after his Facebook status called for a “Day of Rage” in Freedom Square in Baku, echoing the calls for protest in the Middle East.

[…]

On the evening of 5 February he was interrogated without a lawyer, in violation of Article 19 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Procedure Code, and pressured into signing a confession which he has since retracted…. Police reportedly told him that his punishment had already been decided “at the highest level”. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

A Theater of Abuses in Post-Election Belarus

Since Sunday’s controversial presidential election in the ex-Soviet republic of Belarus, where incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka pronounced himself the winner, a wave of human rights violations has been hitting opposition voices in the country (like it wasn’t bad enough in the first place). Among the silenced are Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Kolyada, the founding couple of Belarus Free Theater who – according to The New York Times – “are now in hiding” after the arrest of their colleagues.

When my colleague phoned the Embassy of Belarus in Washington D.C. for a response on the Times report, she was told that the Embassy doesn’t comment on foreign newspaper content.

Here are other questions that the Belarus government doesn’t want to be asked:

- Why have seven of the nine opposition presidential candidates  been detained along with as many as 500 peaceful demonstrators, opposition activists, human rights defenders and journalists, many of whom were beaten by riot police?

- Why was there no autopsy to investigate the allegedly suicidal death of Aleh Byabebin, founder of the unofficial news website Charter’97, who had just joined the campaign team of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov (Sannikau)?

- And why are candidate Sannikau’s legs broken and why is he not receiving medical care in detention?

Let the People Speak

This post is part 3 of 3 of Cultural Oppression in Azerbaijan series

“A medieval cemetery regarded as one of the wonders of the Caucasus has been erased from the Earth in an act of cultural vandalism likened to the Taleban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan,” reflected the London Times after independent journalist Iddrak Abbasov in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan confirmed in April 2006 that the world’s largest historic Armenian cemetery had vanished.

When Mr. Abbasov returned to the exclave of Nakhichevan – where Djulfa existed – to investigate other human rights violations, he was interrogated, harassed, accused of being an Armenian spy, and instructed never to return to the region. Abbasov’s interrogation was mentioned in our 2009 “Azerbaijan: Independent Journalists under Siege” report. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Breaking News: Let the Satellite Stream

This post is part 2 of 3 of Cultural Oppression in Azerbaijan series

When reports emerged in December 2005 that Azerbaijan was deliberately destroying (see the tape) the world’s largest medieval Armenian cemetery at Djulfa with its intricately carved burial stones called khachkars, Azeri president Ilham Aliyev said the news was “an absolute lie.” Five years later, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has released before-and-after satellite image analysis which states that the “the entire area [of the cemetery] has been graded flat.”

Below are top ten reasons why you should take action to tell UNESCO – the international body charged with protecting world heritage – to hold Azerbaijan accountable for Djulfa’s destruction:

Satellite data showing the Djulfa cemetery partly destroyed in 2003 (left) and “graded flat” by 2009 (right); read the complete study on the AAAS website.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Let the Stones Scream

This post is part 1 of 3 of Cultural Oppression in Azerbaijan series


One of many snapshots from a video taped at the Iranian-Azerbaijani border in December 2005, this image shows a truck dumping deliberatey destroyed celebrated khachkars of the Djulfa cemetery into the River Araxes

Five years ago this month an ancient cemetery in a remote region of southerwestern Azerbaijan was wiped off the face of the earth. The unique and intricately carved tombstones of the cemetery known as khachkars, literally cross-stones in Armenian (the craftsmanship of which is a UNESCO Intangible Heritage tradition), were seen as the latest victims of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict materialized in the early 1990s war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. But their destruction was also a broader violation of human rights – not only against ethnic Armenians but all citizens of Azerbaijan who were denied a chance to explore and appreciate an often inconvenient history.

While the Karabakh war, ceased in 1994, destroyed thousands of lives and damaged cultural monuments on both sides (each side equally denying their own responsibility in the casualties), the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery in December 2005 was unique because it took place after the war in a region called Naxçivan (or Nakhichevan) where no skirmishes had taken place (and where ethnic Armenians live no longer). The deliberate destruction of Djulfa was more like a war against history: a calculated act of ruling out a future return of the Armenian heritage by denying its indigenous existence in the first place.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

WikiLeaks Cable: Azerbaijan President Asked to Release Activists… Sort of

Last week’s release of Adnan and Emin – two imprisoned youth activists in Azerbaijan – was discussed (at least once) with the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev earlier this year. In a February 2010 exchange in a confidential cable released by WikiLeaks, Aliyev seems to tentatively agree to releasing the activists:

U/S Burns said that one of the ways Azerbaijan could
show leadership as a tolerant and secular country was in
advancing democracy and human rights. He specifically asked
that, following the appeal process of the two youth
activists, the President find a way on humanitarian grounds
to release the two men. Aliyev made no firm commitment, but
responded, “I think this can be done. I had no intention to
hurt anyone.”
When U/S Burns expressed the hope that the
government could quietly take this step, the President said,
“Okay.”

What’s eye-opening about the exchange is President Aliyev’s admission of his personal knowledge – if not responsibility – in the activists’ arrest and subsequent conviction of “hooliganism.”

It’s also interesting – if not unfortunate – how the US asks Azerbaijan to “quietly” release the youth activists on “humanitarian grounds.”

While we are all glad that Adnan and Emin are free, there is more justice to be done: their conviction must be overturned – not quietly or on humanitarian grounds but for human rights and democracy.

Azerbaijan: Both 'Donkey Bloggers' Are Free!

It is rare to have back-to-back good news on human rights from Azerbaijan. This week is an exception, though. Remember how the Amnesty International USA intern, born in Azerbaijan, shared her happy tears with us about her friend Adnan Hajizade’s release yesterday? Well, there is more cause for celebration – Adnan’s colleague and fellow digital dissenter and prisoner of conscience Emin Abdullayev Milli is also a free man.


‘Donkey bloggers’ Adnan and Emin reunited after release (via Global Voices Online)

While Adnan’s and Emin’s release is great news, Azerbaijan has a long way to come clean with the oppression of dissenters, including that of the ‘Donkey bloggers.’ The young bloggers’ fabricated conviction of hooliganism (which was actually for a YouTube video in donkey-suit mocking corruption in Azerbaijan), for one, must be overturned. And, most urgently, Azerbaijan must release imprisoned journalist and human rights defender (I would also add, peace activist) Eynulla Fatullayev.

Azerbaijan: Blogger and Prisoner of Conscience Released!

Adnan Hajizade, a blogger imprisoned in Azerbaijan, is now a free man! Shabi, an Amnesty International USA intern who was born in Azerbaijan, sent out the following email this morning:

I am from Azerbaijan and the main reason behind my choosing to do internship at Amnesty was that my two friends – Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli had been prisoned last year because they had criticized the government and Amnesty was one of the few organizations, which did research on them and called them ‘prisoners of conscience.’ So, I have wonderful news!!! Adnan Hajizada was released from prison today!

So I thought I should share these great news with you and it’s worth sharing it with all the activists, who have been taking actions in this case. I am just happy to tears and I pray for each prisoner of conscience to be freed just like this.

Thank you so much for all your work!!!

While this is positive news, Adnan’s fellow digital dissenter Emin Milli is still in prison. So is Eynulla Fatullayev who remains in prison despite a reluctant Azerbaijani Supreme Court dropping most of the fabricated charges against him this week.

Thank you for taking action for Adnan.

UPDATE: Emin is also free!!!

Armenia's Domestic Violence Legislation is Overdue

I was shaking from anger after watching a YouTube video (originally posted in Armenian) describing the 2-year abuse of a young woman that resulted in her death over a week ago. By now I should have been prepared not to shake from what has unfortunately become a pedestrian human rights abuse in my homeland – violence against women. But some words are worth thousands of pictures, and it was the words of Hasmik Petrosyan, a young woman from Armenia, describing the death of her 20-year-old sister Zaruhi at the hand of the latter’s husband and mother-in-law that got me feel nauseous. I did manage to put together a petition, though, and I hope that you will sign it.

You don’t need all the details to grasp my anger over Zaruhi’s death. Here is a summary. On September 30, 2010, Zaruhi Petrosyan, a 20-year-old mother of one from Masis, Armenia, was taken to a hospital for cranial brain hemorrhages, a broken finger, and bruises in different parts of her body. After saying her injuries were from a fall, Zaruhi died in Erebuni hospital. Zaruhi’s sister says the young mother was subjected to continuous domestic abuse since her marriage in 2008. Law enforcement allegedly knew of the abuse. According to media reports, Armenian police have arrested Zaruhi’s husband Yanis Sargisov. But, according to Zaruhi’s sister, Yanis Sargisov’s mother had also continuously beaten Zaruhi. A more detailed description in English (basically summarizing the video) is available at the Armenian Weekly.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Armenia: Video Alleges Army Abuse

My fellow Facebookians from ex-Soviet Armenia are sharing a disturbing YouTube video (and furious reactions) – posted today and likely recorded secretly – which shows a shirtless man aggressively and repeatedly slapping a uniformed young man, pulling his ear and seemingly instructing him to “bring water” in an (albeit hard to understand) Armenian dialect before abusing another serviceman.

While I have no confirmation of the authenticity of the video, originally posted on YouTube by an opposition activist (later reposted by others after the original video was removed – see update below), it does appear genuine and is consistent with reports of human rights abuses in Armenia’s army (generally perpetrated by career officers against drafted soldiers) which has resulted in a number of suicides and killings.

In one week alone past summer, according to Radio Free Europe, “[s]ix Armenian army servicemen reportedly were shot dead… in two separate non-combat incidents highlighting lingering abuse and other serious problems within the country’s armed forces.”

Armenia’s government must investigate abuse in the army and institute drastic improvements. When young men are required to serve 2 years in the army, they must at least come out of service healthy and alive.

SEP 12, 2010 UPDATE: YouTube has removed the original video (although it has not removed other versions of it; in the meantime a blogger has reposted it) and Armenia’s Ministry of Defense has issued a statement (in Armenian) confirming that the men depicted in the video are wearing uniforms of the Armenian army. While the press release says the army will investigate the alleged abuse, it also “strictly condemns the preparation and intentional distribution of the material [which attempts] to discredit Armenia’s armed forces.”