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UN rights experts condemn latest prison sentencing of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan

Courthouse in Azerbaijan.
World Bank/Allison Kwesell
Courthouse in Azerbaijan.

UN rights experts condemn latest prison sentencing of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan

Condemning the recent prison sentencing of two prominent Azerbaijani human rights defenders, United Nations human rights experts today expressed concern about the activists’ health during their pre-trial detention and called on the Government to immediately halt any persecution against human rights advocates.

“The authorities of Azerbaijan must put an end immediately to all forms of persecution against human rights activists in the country,” said the human rights experts in a news release from The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stressing that “criminalization of those working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country is deeply disconcerting.”

Leyla and Arif Yunus, like other activists such as Anar Mammadli, Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev, have been targeted because of their legitimate human rights work in Azerbaijan, say the UN experts.

The two rights defenders were sentenced to eight and a half and seven years’ imprisonment respectively on charges of fraud, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, as well as treason.

“Silencing these prominent voices is having a devastating impact on the Azerbaijani civil society as a whole,” warned the experts, reiterating their call on the authorities to reverse the trend of repression, criminalization and prosecution of human rights work in the country.

They were not only concerned about the serious health deterioration of the two human rights activists, but also about their trial failing to meet the international norms.

“We are troubled at the lack of examination of the evidence provided and the refusal to allow international independent observers into the courtroom during the trial proceedings,” noted the experts, while reminding the Government of its legal obligations under international human rights law that ensure every Azerbaijani the rights to freedom of speech, a fair trial and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

“The State has the primary responsibility to protect human rights defenders from any form of harassment, intimidation and retaliation arising as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities,” they stressed.

The experts include Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; Mónica Pinto, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; and Seong-Phil Hong, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.