Emin Huseynov, chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) delivered an oral statement to the UN Human Rights Committee prior to its fourth periodic review of Azerbaijan, on behalf of IRFS, ARTICLE 19 and International Media Support (IMS).
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, ARTICLE 19 and International Media Support welcome the Committee’s review of Azerbaijan’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
We are deeply concerned that the review is taking place as the government of Azerbaijan pursues a renewed crackdown on dissenting and opposition voices within the country.
On 26 September 2016, the population voted in a flawed referendum to adopt amendments to the constitution, consolidating President Aliyev’s power and placing further restrictions on fundamental rights.
Prior to the referendum, the Azerbaijani authorities launched a new wave of arrests of critical voices, particularly targeting the political opposition. Among those arrested was Natiq Jafarli, executive secretary of the Republican Alternative party, who was detained on spurious charges following vocal criticism of the proposed constitutional amendments. The court eventually revoked pre-trial detention and released him, however the criminal charges and case against him remain pending.
The government’s use of extended periods of pre-trial detention, on trumped up charges related to legitimate political activity, effectively removed oppositional voices from public discussions around the referendum.
The authorities continue to repress youth activists and bloggers. Since April 2016, three activists of the NIDA youth movement Giyas Ibrahimov, Bayram Mammadov and Elgiz Gahraman have been arrested on trumped up drugs charges. There are credible reports that they have been subject to torture and other ill treatment while in police custody.
Independent media continue to face politically-motivated criminal proceedings and financial pressure. On 6 September 2016, Azadliq, one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Azerbaijan, was forced to stop publishing due to its inability to repay debts to the state-owned publisher. Its income had plummeted after the state authorities pressured distributors not to stock the publication. The arrest and detention of Azadliq’s financial director, Faiq Amirov, has further exacerbated these difficulties.
We urge the Committee to send a strong message to the Government of Azerbaijan that it must uphold the protections it committed to when ratifying the Convention and cease its systemic violation of fundamental rights.
Azerbaijan must immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and refrain from further harassment of dissenting voices and independent media.
Prior to the Human Rights Committee’s review of Azerbaijan, ARTICLE 19, IRFS and IMS submitted a report containing concerns and recommendations on Azerbaijan.