13 April 2011

IFEX members urge Council of Europe to condemn crackdown

Protests in Azerbaijan inspired by pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world have led to hundreds of bloggers, journalists, civil society activists and opposition party members being harassed, arrested and beaten, report the Institute for Journalists' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), ARTICLE 19 and other IFEX members who make up the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan. Members of the Partnership Group, a coalition of 20 organisations working to defend free expression in Azerbaijan, are in Strasbourg, France, this week to urge the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly to condemn the ongoing crackdown and call for an end to the abuse.

"The human rights situation in Azerbaijan has reached a critical level. We are receiving almost daily reports of abuse against cyber activists, journalists and others in connection with exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. This raises the question: how many more need to be arrested or beaten before the Council of Europe takes action to hold this member state accountable? The credibility of the Council of Europe depends on such stewardship," said ARTICLE 19.

The Partnership Group points to a number of recent examples of the crackdown - such as trumped-up charges against blogger and youth activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who faces up to two years' imprisonment for evading military service, and opposition political activist Jabbar Savalan, who faces up to three years on charges of drug possession.

In recent weeks, journalists Seymur Khaziyev and Ramin Deko from the independent newspaper "Azadlig" were abducted, interrogated and beaten for criticising the authorities, says the Partnership.

On Azerbaijan's "Day of Rage" on 2 April, more than 30 journalists were intercepted and roughed up by riot police in Baku as they were trying to cover pro-democracy protests, reports IRFS. At least 150 people were arrested - some even days before the protest.

Plus, for the first time, authorities have initiated criminal charges against a cyber activist based outside of Azerbaijan by investigating Strasbourg-based activist Elnur Majidli on charges of inciting hatred for his involvement in calling for the protests on Facebook.

The authorities have also closed down non-governmental organizations working on democracy and human rights issues, such as three NGOs in Ganja. IRFS says its own staff has faced surveillance, harassment and detention in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the popular editor Eynulla Fatullayev is still in jail - despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in April that demanded his release, says the Partnership.

The Partnership is urging the Council of Europe to increase its monitoring of Azerbaijan's compliance with its obligations as a member immediately, and to hold Azerbaijan accountable. Read the Partnership's demands in full here.

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