17 April 2015, 20:36
Prosecution of human rights defenders and civil society activists in Azerbaijan
In summer of 2014, Azerbaijan faced a wave of arrests of opposition politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders. In particular, the story of Leyla and Arif Yunus spouses got resonance beyond Azerbaijan. Baku officials declared inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of the state; in turn, opposition and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Amnesty International (AI), the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Human Rights Watch (HRW), protested against the actions of the state security of Azerbaijan.
According to the "List of Political Prisoners", which was made public by Khadija Ismayilova and compiled as a result of the joint collaboration of activists and civil society institutions, originally, in Azerbaijan, 97 persons were arrested for political reasons.
After the report had been published, human rights defender Intigam Aliev was arrested, and civil society activists recognized him as another political prisoner. Besides, journalist Seymour Ghazi, and other activists were arrested after the report had been published. The "Caucasian Knot" has published a complete "List of Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan", which, as of November 2014, included 100 persons.
Activists arrested in 2014:
1. Intigam Aliev
2. Rasul Jafarov Agagasan oglu
3. Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus
4. Rauf Mirkadyrov
6. Seymour Ghazi
Intigam Aliev is an Azerbaijani human rights defender, a lawyer, the head of the non-profit organization (NPO) "Society of Legal Education". Since August 2014, he is being kept in custody.
On August 8, 2014, Intigam Aliev, a well-known lawyer and human rights defender was detained in Baku. On the same day, a search was conducted in his house. The reasons for his detention were not disclosed.
On the same day, Intigam Aliev was summoned to the Investigating Department for Serious Crimes of the General Prosecutor's Office as a witness. After that, he was brought to court and arrested.
Rasul Jafarov Agagasan oglu
Rasul Jafarov is an Azerbaijani human rights defender, a civil society activist, the director of the Human Rights Club, a member of the civil movement "REAL". Since August 2014, he is under arrest. In April 2015, he was sentenced to six years and six months of imprisonment.
Rasul Jafarov was banned from leaving Azerbaijan yet in July 2014, before the prosecution. His bank accounts were also arrested.
On July 31, Rasul Jafarov was summoned to the Investigating Department for Serious Crimes of the General Prosecutor's Office and questioned as a witness in the case against a number of local and foreign NPOs.
The arrest of the human rights defender was preceded by inspections of the activity of the Human Rights Club carried out by specialists of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Taxes of Azerbaijan, and experts of the Council of State Support to NPOs.
According to the investigating authorities, Rasul Jafarov carried out suspicious banking transactions through the Human Rights Club, which had no official registration.
According to the General Prosecutor's Office of Azerbaijan, in October 2010, Rasul Jafarov carried out illegal entrepreneurial activities and made a profit in the amount of 147,900 manats (190,000 US dollars). Besides, he committed tax evasion in the amount of 6162 manats (8000 US dollars) by failing to ensure registration of grant contracts signed with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and other donor organizations.
On the day of the Rasul Jafarov's arrest, his apartment was searched.
The Prosecutor's Office filed charges against Rasul Jafarov under three Articles of the Criminal Code (192, 213, and 308): tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurial activities, and abuse of office.
On August 2, 2014, Rasul Jafarov was arrested. The pre-trial restriction measure against the human rights defender was announced in the form of three-month arrest.
On August 20, 2014, the Nasimi District Court of Baku chaired by Judge Shalala Gasanov considered a motion of human rights defender Rasul Jafarov to replace his pre-trial restriction measure with house arrest. The motion was dismissed by the investigators.
The investigators argued in favour of their position by stating that Rasul Jafarov might abscond and falsify evidence.
In turn, Rasul Jafarov and his advocate denied all the charges and called them unfounded and politically motivated.
Firstly, according to the advocate, Rasul Jafarov did not register the NPO officially, and he participated in various projects as a coordinator. Since Rasul Jafarov got no official position, he could not commit abuse of office.
Secondly, the advocate of the human rights defender considers inappropriate the charges of "illegal entrepreneurial activities", since Rasul Jafarov was not engaged in commercial activities for profit.
Thirdly, with regard to tax evasion, the investigators argue that Rasul Jafarov did not pay taxes in the amount of 6000 manats for income of 150,000 manats for five years of financial activity. However, according to the advocate, Rasul Jafarov submitted all the documents requested by the investigators only on July 31, and thus, the investigators could not physically examine those documents so quickly and reveal the fact of tax evasion.
In October 2014, Rasul Jafarov filed a claim against Bank Respublika on the unreasonable blocking of his bank card. In November, the court recognized that the bank did not violate the rights of his client and dismissed the claim filed by Rasul Jafarov.
On January 15, 2015, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes began to consider the criminal case against Rasul Jafarov. During the preparatory court session, most of the defence motions were dismissed.
On April 9, 2015, public prosecutor asked to sentence the defendant to nine years of imprisonment. According to the public prosecutor, the trial proved the guilt of Rasul Jafarov under Articles 179.3.2 (embezzlement in large size), 192.2.2 (illegal entrepreneurial activities with large-scale income), 213.1 (tax evasion), 308.2 (abuse of office followed by grave consequences), and 313 (forgery) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. Rasul Jafarov denied all the charges.
At the court session held on April 14, 2015, the defence delivered a final speech. The advocates called on the court to justify the human rights defender and argued his guilt had not been proven.
On April 16, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes recognized Rasul Jafarov, a coordinator of the campaign "Art for Democracy", guilty on charges of illegal entrepreneurial activities, tax evasion, abuse of office, forgery, and embezzlement on a large scale and sentenced the human rights defender to 6 years and 6 months of imprisonment in a common-security penal colony.
Rasul Jafarov was engaged in human rights activities since 2006. He used to be an active member of the human rights campaigns "Song for Democracy" and "Art for Democracy", and he was engaged in protection of the rights of political prisoners.
At the PACE session held in Strasbourg in June 2014, Rasul Jafarov and a number of other human rights defenders delivered a report on the problem of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
At the session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held in Baku in July, Rasul Jafarov and other activists held a public hearing on the civil society issues.
The international human rights organization "Amnesty International" (AI) recognized human rights defender Rasul Jafarov arrested in Azerbaijan on charges of economic crimes a "prisoner of conscience".
The AI called to release Rasul Jafarov, and the appeal was also supported by human rights organization "Human Rights Watch" (HRW).
In connection with the sentencing of Rasul Jafarov, the international human rights organizations urged the European leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the European Games in Baku, if political prisoners are not released by that time. Representatives of the US State Department and the PACE also condemned the verdict of guilty announced against Rasul Jafarov. Baku officials rejected criticism.
Khadija Ismayilova is a journalist from Azerbaijan, the author of several journalistic investigations of facts of corruption in the highest echelons of power in Azerbaijan. On October 24, 2012, Khadija Ismayilova received the "Courage in Journalism" Award establishment by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF). Since December 2014, Khadija Ismayilova is being kept in custody on charges of bringing her former colleague to a suicide attempt. The journalist's defence treats the charge as absurd, and independent lawyers also questioned the version voiced by investigators.
On October 3, 2014, Khadija Ismayilova was detained at the Baku airport when she returned from Strasbourg. During a thorough examination of her things, which continued until 1:00 a.m. (12:00 p.m. Moscow time) of October 4, customs officers demanded to submit a memory card for examination. According to Khadija Ismayilova, during her two-week trip to Kiev, Warsaw, Belgrade, and Strasbourg, she received information that she would be arrested on her return to Azerbaijan. On October 12, the Prosecutor's Office of Azerbaijan issued a resolution banning Khadija Ismayilova from leaving the country. Thus, in connection with the above ban, the journalist was unable to depart from Baku to Prague to take part in the international conference "Forum 2000". On the next day, an official from the General Prosecutor's Office explained the restriction on movement imposed to the journalist by the investigation into the criminal case, in which she was involved as a witness.
On December 5, Khadija Ismayilova was summoned to the Baku City Prosecutor's Office, where she was detained. After the interrogation, the journalist was brought to the Sabail District Court of Baku. The Court announced the pre-trial restriction in the form of two-month arrest, with the indictment under Article 125 (bringing to suicide) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
According to the journalist's defence, the charge is absurd.
On January 27, 2015, the Baku Sabail District Court extended the pre-trial restriction in the form of arrest of Khadija Ismayilova for one month and 19 days.
Rauf Mirkadyrov is a well-known Azerbaijani journalist and politician, who participated in the creation of the Popular Front in 1989. He was arrested in April 2014.
In 2011, Rauf Mirkadyrov moved with his family members to Turkey, where he headed the correspondent bureau of the newspaper "The Mirror". Rauf Mirkadyrov was deported from Turkey in April 2014, probably because of his criticism of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government.
Upon his arrival in Baku, Rauf Mirkadyrov was detained and imprisoned in the SIZO (pre-trial prison) of the Ministry of National Security (MNS) of Azerbaijan on charges of espionage and high treason.
On April 21, 2014, Rauf Mirkadyrov faced the pre-trial restriction measure in the form of three-month arrest.
According to Fuad Agaev, the journalist's advocate, Rauf Mirkadyrov has denied the accusation and treats it as politically motivated. Rauf Mirkadyrov is charged with espionage in favour of Armenia.
The day after the Rauf Mirkadyrov's arrest, a search was conducted in the edition office of the newspaper "The Mirror". Prosecutors seized a PC of Elchin Shikhly, an editor of the newspaper "The Mirror", and some of the documents of the editorial office.
On May 4, the Rauf Mirkadyrov's apartment was searched. During the search, law enforcers seized a number of documents and electronic data carriers, including a tablet of Rauf Mirkadyrov's daughter.
After the search, the Rauf Mirkadyrov's apartment was visited by an official of the Azerbaijani Embassy, who asked the journalist's wife about her husband's activities. Then, the woman was invited to visit the Azerbaijani Embassy, where investigators, who came from Baku, questioned her in the case of her husband.
On July 15, Rauf Mirkadyrov's arrest was extended for other four months.
On July 19, with the help of his advocate Elmar Suleimanov, Rauf Mirkadyrov disseminated a statement, in which he responded to the allegations voiced by the General Prosecutor's Office about his collaboration with the secret services of Armenia.
"From the statement voiced by the General Prosecutor's Office, I get an impression that ... there is a kind of cooperation with the secret services of Armenia in the case of discrediting political figures and independent journalists. From the statement of the General Prosecutor's Office, I can conclude that the parties even carry out joint operations in this direction," Rauf Mirkadyrov has noted in his statement.
According to the press release of the General Prosecutor's Office and the Azerbaijani MNS disseminated in the evening of July 16, the materials on two CDs "unmasking" Rauf Mirkadrov were handed over in Tbilisi to two citizens of Azerbaijan by an Armenian citizen named Samvel.
Seymour Ghazi is an observer of the newspaper "Azadlyg" (Freedom), a member of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF). On August 29, 2014, he was detained on suspicion of disorderly conduct. On January 29, 2015, the Absheron District Court of Azerbaijan found him guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced him to five years of imprisonment.
Seymour Ghazi was detained on August 29, 2014. According to the law enforcement authorities, the journalist beat Magerram Gasanov, a stranger. On September 6, it was reported that Magerram Gasanov, the second participant of the incident, was also detained. According to the Prosecutor's Office, he insulted and hit Seymour Ghazi.
On October 2, 2014, the court refused to change the pre-trial restriction measure in the form of detention in custody for Seymour Ghazi, although Magerram Gasanov, the second person involved in the case, was released under house arrest. On November 11, the Absheron District Court began to consider the case, and both participants of the incident were brought to the prisoners' dock.
At the court session held on December 4, 2014, Seymour Ghazi denied the charges against him and called them politically motivated. Magerram Gasanov refused to testify. Advocates filed a motion to recognize both defendants the victims; however, the Court dismissed the motion.
On January 29, 2015, the Absheron District Court of Azerbaijan recognized Seymour Ghazi guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced him to five years of imprisonment. Magerram Gasanov, the other figurant in the criminal case, was sentenced to six months of imprisonment.
According to Adil Ismaylov, an advocate of Seymour Ghazi, his client is being prosecuted for political reasons, since he is one of the most influential figures of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), a member of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), and a journalist, who dared to criticize the authorities in the newspaper "Azadlyg", the online-programme "Azerbaijani Hour", and the Facebook. The advocate has stated: "I wouldn't like to politicize the case. However, the fact is that at all the recent trials when I defended oppositionists, verdicts of guilty were announced despite our founded arguments. And the reason for that was in political attitudes of my clients."
Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus
Leyla Yunus is an Azerbaijani human rights defender, a member of the Assembly of the World Organization against Torture, a participant of the peacekeeping initiatives on the problem of the Karabakh conflict, the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD). She was arrested on July 30, 2014.
Arif Yunus is the head of the Department of Conflictology and Migration of the Institute for Peace and Democracy in Azerbaijan, a political scientist. He was arrested on August 5, 2014.
Leyla Yunus is a human rights defender with extensive experience. She started her activities back in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (AzSSR). In 2013, Leyla Yunus was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honour of France.
On April 28, Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus were detained at the international airport in Baku. The Yunus spouses were supposed to fly to Paris and then to Brussels to take part in an international event. At the border control, the Yunus spouses were informed that they are banned from leaving the country.
On April 29, 2014, Leyla Yunus spent nine hours at the General Prosecutor's Office of Azerbaijan being questioned as a witness in the case against journalist Rauf Mirkadyrov suspected of high treason.
When the Yunus spouses were detained at the Baku airport, their passports and the document confirming their ownership of the apartment were seized.
From late May, the Yunus spouses repeatedly received summons to come to the court. However, they refused to appear and demanded to first return them their travelling passports and the documents for their apartment, which, according to them, were illegally seized.
On July 29, Leyla Yunus told journalists that her family members are under open surveillance.
On July 30, 2014, Azerbaijani human rights defenders Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus were detained in the yard of their house in Baku and brought to the Investigating Department for Serious Crimes of the General Prosecutor's Office.
The Azerbaijani General Prosecutor's Office filed charges against Leyla Yunus, the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), and her husband Arif Yunus, a staff member of the above NPO, under a number of articles of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan, including treason. The Yunus spouses denied the charges and called them politically motivated.
In the same evening, Leyla Yunus, the director of the IPD, was brought to court to face announcement of the pre-trial restriction measure. Arif Yunus was placed under police surveillance "for health reasons", and that fact did not provide for detention in custody.
Leyla Yunus was charged under Article 192 (illegal entrepreneurial activities), 178.3.2 (fraud causing serious injury), 213 (tax evasion), 274 (high treason), and 320 (forgery of official documents) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
According to him, Arif Yunus was charged under Article 274 (high treason) and 178.3.2 (fraud causing serious injury).
On August 5, several days after the arrest of Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, an expert on conflicts, political analyst, and a staff member of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was also detained. On the same day, he faced the pre-trial restriction measure in the form of three-month arrest.
According to the press service of the General Prosecutor's Office, the arrest of Arif Yunus was motivated by his violation of the requirements of the criminal procedural law.
In particular, according to the statement of the General Prosecutor's Office, Arif Yunus has repeatedly, without the police permission, "left the territory of the district where he lived, met the persons under investigation or who the persons might be subjected to investigation, been engaged in online correspondence, appeared in the media with interviews, where he provided unilateral untrue information."
The arrest of Leyla Yunus was met with misunderstanding by the international community and, in particular, the international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In particular, the United States urged the Azerbaijani government to respect the rights of its citizens and called the criminal charges against human rights defender Leyla Yunus "further restriction of the peaceful activities of civil society" in Azerbaijan.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS), a joint programme of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has claimed the threat to life and health of Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus. According to the statement made by the OBS based in Geneva, Leyla Yunus diagnosed with diabetes is being deliberately kept in deplorable conditions, without medical care and in a small cell, together with other six persons and without fresh air.
In August 2014, Alaif Gasanov, an advocate of Leyla Yunus, claimed the human rights defender was subjected to moral and psychological pressure at the SIZO (pre-trial prison).
On September 24, advocates of Leyla Yunus claimed she was beaten in the Baku SIZO No. 1 by a staff member of the penitentiary institution. In the evening of September 25, Leyla Yunus was visited by advocate Elchin Gambarov at the SIZO No. 1. "The health state of Leyla Yunus is severe," he told the journalists. According to the advocate, after the strokes in her head, Leyla Yunus started suffering from headache. "When Leyla Yunus talked to me, she often loses her memory. Leyla Yunus spoke several sentences. Then, she stopped, and after a while, she again began to speak. Leyla Yunus does not remember what happened to her after Fagan Yagubov, a SIZO staff member, struck her in the head twice. Despite the fact that two days passed after the beating took place, Leyla Yunus gets even worse headache," said the advocate. He believes that the arrested human rights defender got a serious traumatic brain injury and, perhaps, a subdural hematoma. According to the advocate, several months ago, Leyla Yunus underwent surgery done on her both eyes. The advocate expressed the fear that Leyla Yunus could go blind because of the injuries she got.
In Azerbaijan, background of the case against the Yunus spouses gets ambiguous estimations. Baku officials claim unprecedented pressure from the international community, in particular, international NGOs, and development of anti-Azerbaijani campaign. On the other hand, the prosecution and arrest of the Yunus spouses raised a wave of criticism from members of the opposition forces of the country, in particular, the "Musavat" Party and the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).