On 11 February the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Emin Huseynov, chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), has been in hiding in the Swiss Embassy in Baku since August 2014.
Emin Huseynov was reported missing in August, but his whereabouts were unknown until a Swiss television show revealed his location yesterday. The latest revelations come against a backdrop of increasing repression of human rights defenders and journalists in Azerbaijan, which began with changes to the laws regulating NGOs in February 2014. The legal amendments included the creation of new administrative offenses, higher financial and criminal penalties and new grounds for authorities to deny registration or close NGOs.
The crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists reached a peak last summer with a string of arrests and raids on NGOs. In May, Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre were sentenced to 5 years and 6 months imprisonment and 3 years and 6 months, respectively. In July Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was arrested on charges of treason, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship. Her husband Arif Yunus, was arrested soon after on the same charges. Intigam Aliyev, head of the Legal Education Society and Rasul Jafarov, director of the Human Rights Club were also arrested on similar charges. In August 2014, when the offices of IRFS were raided and sealed off, Huseynov, who was not at the office at the time of the raid, went into hiding. Since that time there have been further arrests. Notably in December leading investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was arrested on spurious charges and has been in pre-trial detention ever since.
ARTICLE 19 believes that the harassment of NGOs and the string of arrests and closures are politically motivated and calls on the Azerbaijani government to drop the charges against Emin Huseynov, and other imprisoned human rights defenders and journalists and ensure that human rights organisations and journalists can safely carry out their legitimate work defending freedom of expression and fighting corruption.
Background on Huseynov
Huseynov has previously been arrested and interrogated for his legitimate work defending freedom of expression. In 2008 he was arrested for attending a party celebrating the birthday of Che Guevara and was admitted into intensive care after sustaining brain injuries as a result of a police beating. Huseynov still suffers from health problems as a result and fears that prison conditions would have a severe negative impact on his health, as has been the case for Leyla and Arif Yunus.