United Nations Special Rapporteur Michel Forst today criticized the “relentless prosecution and repression of prominent rights activists in Azerbaijan” and called for their immediate release – before the inaugural European Games begin in Baku on 12 June.
The independent expert said, “As preparations are in full swing for the Baku Games, the Azerbaijani authorities stepped up their efforts to harass, jail, and surveil human rights defenders, as well as ban them from travel and freeze their assets.”
Mr. Forst underscored that such “unjustifiable criminalization” was usually justified with trumped-up or politically-motivated charges of State treason, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office. “As a result, most Azerbaijani defenders have had to endure prolonged pre-trial detention, imprisonment or exile,” he explained.
The UN expert also drew attention to actions against Intigam Aliyev and Khadija Ismail for documenting cases of political prisoners; Anar Mammadli, Bashir Suleymanli and Elnur Mammadov for monitoring presidential elections in October 2013; Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif, for criticizing the Government; and Rasul Jafarov for organizing a “Sport for Rights” initiative during the Baku Games that aimed to expose corruption and rights abuses in the country.
Mr. Forst expressed his deep regret for continued efforts “to stifle fundamental freedoms of expression and association, and to shrink the democratic space even further in the country” and urged the Government to allow those who promote and protect human rights to do so “in an environment that empowers rather than prosecutes.”
The human rights expert noted that the first European Olympic Games represented “an opportunity for the countries of Europe to come together and celebrate the Olympic spirit of freedom and inclusiveness.”
He stressed that as host country, Azerbaijan should embody those ideals and release the imprisoned human rights supporters. “Azerbaijani activists must be free and they deserve to be part of the European celebrations in Baku.”
Mr. Forst also urged athletes, sport fans and supporters of the Games “to show solidarity with Azerbaijani human rights defenders and join the calls for them to be freed immediately in the European spirit of freedom and human rights.”
Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and David Kaye, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression also endorsed Mr. Forst's appeal to the Azerbaijani Government.