Three human rights defenders facing 12 years in prison for charges brought against them in the aftermath of Azerbaijan’s 2013 presidential elections have drawn the serious concern of United Nations independent experts.
“We are seriously concerned that the three human rights defenders are being prosecuted in retaliation for their legitimate work in documenting alleged widespread irregularities and human rights violations around the presidential elections of 9 October 2013,” explained Mr. Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
Chairman of the Azerbaijani Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre, Anar Mammadli and Executive Director Bashir Suleymanli, are being tried in Baku, along with the President of the Volunteers of International Cooperation Public Union, Elnur Mammadov, on charges of conducting organized group business activities without registration, abusing official powers and other allegations.
Since 16 December 2013, Mr. Mammadli has been in pre-trial detention. The prior June, he participated in a consultation with Mr. Kiai in Geneva as part of preparations for a report on exercising the rights to freedom – for peaceful assembly and association – in the context of elections.
“All charges brought against them should be dropped and Mr. Mammadli should be released immediately,” urged the Special Rapporteur.
Due to a law establishing excessively bureaucratic procedures, the Democracy Studies Centre has faced many challenges regarding its registration.
“Civil society plays a key role in ensuring transparent and fair elections by monitoring the exercise of public freedoms in such critical times,” asserted Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
“Silencing these human rights defenders would not only have a devastating impact on Azerbaijani civil society as a whole, it would also indelibly stain the 2013 presidential elections,” she added.
The experts recalled their statement of 4 October 2013 in which they urged the Azerbaijani Government to recognize and enable the role of defenders and civil society organizations in the run-up to its presidential elections.
“In times of elections, States should make greater efforts to facilitate and protect the exercise of the core right to freedom of association,” the experts reiterated, adding “this also applies in post-election periods during which human rights defenders are similarly exposed to violations and abuses.”
The prosecution of the three human rights defenders was even more troubling as last month Azerbaijan was elected into the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), which considers NGO applications for consultative status – allowing them to access various UN human rights mechanisms.
“Should the three men be convicted, it would run contrary to the very spirit of Azerbaijan’s recent election within this UN Committee,” the experts concluded.
Azerbaijan has extended a standing invitation to the independent experts of the Human Rights Council and Mr. Kiai hopes to be able to visit the country soon.
The United Nations human rights experts are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council – the largest body of independent experts in UN Human Rights.