Statement

Azerbaijan: International organisations concerned by the detention of youth opposition activist

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ARTICLE 19

08 Oct 2012

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The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan (IPGA), coordinated by ARTICLE 19, is concerned about the arrest of Zaur Gurbanli, an activist with the N!DA Civic Movement and the Positive Change Youth Movement.  Gurbanli was held incommunicado from 29 September to 1 October and is now serving a 15 day administrative sentence for allegedly resisting the police officers when arrested.

In particular, the IPGA is concerned by the covert nature of Gurbanli’s arrest and detention, and the apparent political motivations guiding the case. 

On the morning of 29 September 2012, Zaur Gurbanli, 25, was arrested outside his apartment in the capital Baku by members of the Azerbaijiani Interior Ministry’s Central Unit Against Organised Crime.  Gurbanli’s apartment and offices were then searched in his presence, but without a search warrant, after which the activist was transferred to an unknown location. During the following two days no information was provided to his family or lawyer regarding the activist’s whereabouts or the reason for his detention. One of the officials reportedly claimed that Gurbanli was being taken to the Yasamal District Police Department, yet when contacted by the activist’s lawyer the department denied this claim. A witness later reported seeing Gurbanli near the Anti-organised Crime Unit although the Ministry of Internal Affairs refused to confirm this. The silence surrounding Gurbanli’s detention led his family and friends to believe he had been kidnapped.

Due to the lack of information regarding his whereabouts there was also significant delay before the activist was allowed access to a lawyer, violating his fundamental rights as a detainee. Gurbanli’s lawyer, Asabali Mustafayev, was finally granted access to his client on 1 October and it was subsequently reported the activist’s detention was based on information about his possible involvement in drug trafficking. However, it appears that no charges have been brought with regards to these allegations. Instead, Gurbanli was sentenced in a closed hearing by Absheron Regional Court to 15 days administrative detention under Article 19 310.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences for deliberately resisting to obey lawful demands of on-duty police officers. It was also claimed by the authorities that illegal documents and other materials had been found at his workplace.

During the search of the office of the Positive Change Movement, carried out without a search warrant on 29 September, officials from the Central Unit Against Organized Crime had confiscated printed N!DA campaign materials showing Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s silhouette and the words ‘I will go in 2013 if you join the N!DA’. Gurbanli’s laptop had also been seized. In a subsequent statement other members of the N!DA Civic Movement stated that the 8,000 flyers confiscated by the police were only promotional materials intended to attract new members to their organisation, which had been printed in accordance with Azerbaijani law.

At a press conference held on 1 October, after Gurbanli’s sentencing, representatives of N!DA indicated their belief that his activism was the real motivation behind his arrest.

Zaur Gurbanli’s arrest is the latest in a series of apparently politically motivated arrests over the last few months. Particularly targeted are those, like Gurbanli, who were critical of the authorities in the build up to, and during, the Eurovision Song Contest, hosted by Azerbaijan in May this year. Gurbanli was part of the Sing for Democracy movement, which used the contest as an opportunity to highlight human rights abuses in Azerbaijan. His fellow activist Mehman Huseynov was arrested in June 2012, on charges of hooliganism. Although later released from pre-trial detention he remains under investigation. There are currently seven imprisoned journalists/human rights defenders, a further six detained on pre-trial detention and two, including Huseynov, who have been charged but not detained.

The IPGA condemns the Azerbaijani authorities’ ongoing attempts to silence those who criticise the government and/or support political change; the detention and trial of opposition activists, as well as the seemingly political charges and sentences brought against them, all of which violate international standards on the right to freedom of expression and information.

Following Gurbanli’s arrest, the IPGA recommends that the Azerbaijani authorities immediately take the following action:

  • Carry out a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into Gurbanli’s incommunicado detention and hold those responsible to account;
  • Make public the evidence supporting its charge against Zaur Gurbanli;
  • Ensure Azerbaijan upholds international standards regarding the right to freedom of expression and right to freedom of information and that these rights are respected and guaranteed for all its citizens. 

The following organisations support this statement:

ARTICLE 19             

Index on Censorship

Freedom House

Freedom Now

Media Diversity Institute

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

PEN International