Azerbaijan: Birthday protest highlights that many activists remain detained

Azerbaijan: Birthday protest highlights that many activists remain detained - Protection

Today, ARTICLE 19, as part of the Sport for Rights campaign, is participating in a rally outside the Azerbaijani Embassy in London to celebrate the recent release of Khadija Ismayilova. Khadija is a leading Azerbaijani investigative journalist and together we call for her full acquittal, and the release of all other political prisoners.

On Wednesday, Khadija, was released on probation from prison after spending a year and half behind bars. While excellent news, she is still subject to unwarranted restrictions based on unfounded charges, as her conviction has not been quashed. Moreover, dozens of other political prisoners remain behind bars.

Today is also Khadija’s 40th birthday. The protest provides an opportunity to celebrate her inspiring work, tirelessly exposing corruption among the elite in Azerbaijan. 39 other protests are also taking place across the world, making a total of 40 protests in honour of this remarkable woman.

The protest is a timely reminder to the Azerbaijani government that the world is watching them, and that we demand the release of all of those imprisoned unjustly. Here are just some of the people who remain behind bars, for whose freedom we must continue to fight:

  • Ilkin Rustemzade, a youth activist and member of Azad Genchlik (Free Youth Organisation), was arrested on charges of hooliganism in May 2013, due to his alleged involvement in a ‘Harlem Shake’ video filmed in Baku. Despite the fact that the video has seemingly no political content and Rustemzade is not featured on-screen, he was held in pre-trial detention for a year, and sentenced on 6 May 2014 to eight years’ imprisonment.
  • Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of the opposition Republican Alternative (REAL) party, potential presidential candidate, and the main opposition to President Aliyev, was sentenced to 7 years in prison in March 2014 for allegedly organising mass disorder and resisting arrest. Between Mammadov’s arrest on 4 February 2013 and his conviction over a year later, he was held for more than nine months at a pre-trial detention centre, despite the lack of evidence against him. He has been subject to violent and degrading treatment while in jail.
  • Seymour Hezi, journalist and columnist for Azadliq, the main opposition newspaper in Azerbaijan, and news presenter for pro-opposition TV channel Azerbaycan Saati (Azerbaijan Hour), was sentenced to five years imprisonment on 29 January 2015. In August 2014, while waiting for a bus, Hezi was attacked by a man he did not know. In self-defence, he struck the man with a bottle he was holding at the time. Hezi remains in prison and on 15 April 2016 Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court refused his appeal against his conviction.

In June, Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, will host the Formula 1 Grand Prix. The lead-up to this high-profile event provides a chance to increase international awareness of the dire human rights situation in Azerbaijan. International pressure must continue on the government to meaningfully improve its human rights record, rather than rewarding it for token improvements that can easily be reversed.

Read our Press Release following the release of Khadija from prison on 25 May.

If you are a journalist and are interested in finding out more about the situation in Azerbaijan ahead of the F1 Grand Prix, we have a press pack available and are holding a press-briefing in June which is invitation only. Please contact us on 020 3290 9308 for more information.