Tech & Rights

Wave of Arrests of Human Rights Defenders in Azerbaijan

A wave of arrests of human rights defenders swept Azerbaijan in early August, prompting fears among experts about the security of civil society and human rights in the country. Among those arrested was lawyer and activist Intigam Aliyev.

by Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Intigam Aliyev, as chair of the Legal Education Society, was one of the first Azerbaijani lawyers to bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights, and he has won more than 49 of them during his career. He also trained and provided guidance to Azerbaijan's newest generation of human rights defenders. In early August, he was detained in Baku on politically motivated charges, including tax evasion and illegal business activities.

"Intigam Aliyev is the symbol of an independent civil society, the teacher of generations of lawyers, the leading lawyer representing the applicants before the Court in Strasbourg," said Dr. Adam Bodnar, deputy president of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. "Just a year ago, [then] Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic Karel Schwarzenberg gave a laudation in his honor, while [Mr. Aliyev was] receiving the Homo Homini Award."

Many accused

Mr. Aliyev is the fourth human rights defender arrested in Azerbaijan in the past two weeks. Earlier, authorities arrested Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus and Rasul Jafarov. Leyla and Afir Yunus devoted their work to building peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan despite the unresolved conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Rasul Jafarov was one of the organizers behind the Sing for Democracy campaign, in connection with the 2012 Eurovision final in Baku.

Currently, the leaders of 21 NGOs, including the Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy (Zohrab Ismayilov) and the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (Emin Huseynov), have been accused of tax evasion and illegal business activities. It is expected that the leaders of these organizations will soon be arrested.

"Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, eliminates human rights activists before parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015. The escalation of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is also not without significance, as the activists no doubt would protest against it," said Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, HFHR's lawyer.

Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs protests

Three weeks ago, HFHR in solidarity with the detained activists organized protest action in front of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Warsaw. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed "concern about the politically motivated arrests of Azerbaijani civil society activists."

"We call on the Azerbaijan's authorities to stop the repression against civil society activists, opposition politicians and their families and to respect the obligations of membership in the Council of Europe, in the OSCE and the UN," read the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the first foreign affairs ministry in the European Union to adopt a firm position on the repression of civil society in Azerbaijan.

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