Although Azeri election monitoring activist Bashir Suleymanli was released, others remain in jail, reports the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT).
On 18 March 2015, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev signed an annual presidential pardon releasing 101 prisoners, including Bashir Suleymanli, co-founder of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDSC).
Whilst welcoming Suleymanli’s release, on 19 March morning, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) remains deeply concerned by the ongoing arbitrary detention of other prominent human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.
Charged with “embezzlement”, “illegal business”, “tax evasion”, “abuse of authority” and “forgery”, Suleymanli, was sentenced on 26 May 2014 to three and a half years in prison, following an unfair trial. On the same day, Anar Mammadli, chairman of the EMDSC, was sentenced to 5.5 years, and remains currently detained.
Bashir Suleymanli co-founded the EMDSC along with Anar Mammadli, and has committed himself to the right to free and fair elections and to the promotion of democracy. The EMDSC – which Azeri authorities have always refused to register – has been leading electoral monitoring activities in Azerbaijan since 2008. The EMDSC had notably denounced massive irregularities during the October 2013 presidential election.
“The release of Mr Bashir Suleymanli is a relief for the human rights community, but we must remain vigilant as many other human rights defenders remain behind bars in Azerbaijan,” declared FIDH president Karim Lahidji.
The Observatory recalls that since April 2014, a severe crackdown has hit key representatives of civil society, NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists and their lawyers. Prominent and recognised human rights defenders and journalists were arrested, such as Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunusov, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov and Rauf Mirqadirov, joined later by Khadija Ismayilova.
Alongside, the conditions of work of NGOs have significantly deteriorated, and it is to be feared that the run-up to the first ‘European Games’, to be held in the Azeri capital in June, will restrict even further the ability of independent journalists and activists to report freely on human rights and democracy issues.
“It is time for the authorities in Azerbaijan to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders currently in prison because of their human rights work,” concluded OMCT secretary general Gerald Staberock.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.