Azerbaijan: The crackdown on free speech continues
06 Mar 2013
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ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the crackdown on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan is gaining momentum as the country prepares for Presidential elections later this year.
Campaigners involved with the Art for Democracy project, which aims to promote and protect human rights and strengthen civil society through art in Azerbaijan, are among those who have recently been the target of attempts by officials to suppress free speech in the country.
The Advocacy Director for Art of Democracy, the American-British human rights campaigner Rebecca Vincent has revealed that her residency permit has revoked by the authorities without an official explanation. Rebecca, who worked for ARTICLE 19 until September 2012, had been active on human rights in Azerbaijan for several years but is no longer allowed to enter the country.
Following a launch event for the campaign in Baku in December 2012, those working on the project, people who attended the event and the Human Rights Club, the main organisation behind the campaign, have been targeted by the authorities for their involvement with the project.
In February 2013 the authorities in Azerbaijan turned down an application by the Human Rights Club to officially register as an NGO. The organisation has battled for more than two years for registration.
“The way Art for Democracy is being targeted is illustrative of a wider trend in the country. The crackdown on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan has intensified since the start of 2013. Human rights defenders, journalists, political activists and artists who express criticism of the authorities either nationally or internationally, face pressure from the authorities in an attempt to silence them” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.
“We remain deeply concerned about those people inside the country that continue to be targeted for what that they have said, including their political views. The government must stand by its international obligations – and respect the right of its people to express themselves freely. This is particularly important as we approach a Presidential election. Free speech is vital for a healthy society” Callamard added.
Since January 2013, we have witnessed a wave of repressive measures in the country that have sought to silence free speech:
- A series of protests towards the end of January resulted in the arrest of more than 70 protesters, many were fined or detained. Among them were prominent blogger Emin Milli, human rights defender Malahat Nasibova, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, and investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.
- On 4 February a court detained the head of the political opposition REAL movement Ilgar Mammadov, who recently announced his plans to run for the presidency. Tofiq Yaqubli, deputy head of the opposition party Musavat and a journalist with the Yeni Musavat newspaper, was also detained. Both men were remanded in pre-trial detention for two months and charged with inciting riots in Ismayilli.
- In addition to the attacks on the free speech of individual citizens, the authorities are limiting freedom of expression through a series of legislative measures.
- In February the authorities announced that they intend to establish a regulatory body for the internet under the National Press Council, which could lead to greater restrictions to freedom of expression online. This adds to existing concerns that the National Television and Radio Council plan to license internet television channels.
- Parliament has also passed new legislation that imposes greater restrictions on the funding of NGOs in Azerbaijan, which could both limit their work and allow the authorities to shut them down at very little notice.
ARTICLE 19 calls upon Azerbaijan to:
- Respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, both online and offline, and refrain from targeting human rights defenders, journalists and others who express opinions critical of the authorities.
- Refrain from introducing legislation that will restrict the rights of freedom of expression online and off-line and, as well as overturn amendments to NGO legislation and to the law on freedom of assembly adopted in November 2012, severely increasing the fines for participating or organising unauthorised protests.
ARTICLE 19 calls upon the international community including the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the United Nations to:
- Continue to closely monitor and report on developments in Azerbaijan with a view to ensuring that Azerbaijani authorities investigate all cases of violence or other types of harassment against human rights defenders and journalists including arbitrary arrests in an independent, transparent and timely manner.
- Urge the Azerbaijani authorities to revise the repressive amendments to the Freedom of Assembly law and allow their citizens to hold peaceful protests in Baku city centre.
- We also call on the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to undertake a serious debate on the participation of Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe, particularly ahead of its chairmanship which is scheduled for May-November 2013.
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