Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Azerbaijan
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Publication Date||18 June 2009|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Azerbaijan, 18 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5f3021c.html [accessed 25 April 2014]|
The year 2008 saw no improvement in the human rights situation in Azerbaijan: the authoritarian regime of President Aliev was indeed reinforced and independent voices continued to be repressed. The presidential elections of October 15 took place without mishap, since the opposition boycotted the vote and organised no protest rallies. To no-one's surprise the President won the elections with more than 88% of the votes. Although the OSCE and the European Union were satisfied with some of the technical amendments to the Electoral Code, they nonetheless recalled that these elections could not be considered democratic.1 In addition, on December 24, 2008, the Constitutional Court ratified a bill extending the limit to run for the Presidency beyond two terms, thus giving Mr. Ilham Aliev the possibility of lifetime election. A referendum on the end to the limit was due to be organised on March 18, 2009.
Although five journalists were released in January, strong repression of the independent media continued throughout 2008. At the end of October 2008, Mr. Nushiravan Maharramli, the Chairman of the national radio and television, announced that as from January 1, 2009 the foreign radio stations BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) would no longer be licensed to broadcast programmes on national waves, on the pretext of making frequencies available for local radio stations.2
Furthermore, as of the end of 2008, many political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders were still in prison and detention conditions remained alarming.3
Persistent administrative obstacles to freedom of association
Although the legislative framework for civil society organisations has been clarified and improved in recent years, in reality freedom of association remained precarious during 2008. With the creation in December 2007 of the Council of State Support to NGOs under the President, the registration of organisations in fact took on a considerable political and financial dimension, since only legally recognised organisations could participate in or were eligible for funding from the Council. In 2008, the latter received a budget of one and a half million dollars and began to allocate funding in August. In April, President Aliev appointed 11 members of the Council, including three Government representatives and eight NGO representatives, two of whom are representatives of human rights organisations. However, several members of civil society criticised the purely consultative nature of Council members' opinions regarding decisions for grant aid allocation.
Additionally, there remained many practical obstacles to the registration of organisations (in particular waiting periods and legal flaws), so that some NGOs, such as the Forum of Jurists of Azerbaijan and the Humanity and Environment Organisation were only registered after the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgement, following many years of legal battles.4 Furthermore, in 2008 the withdrawal of registration remained one of the simplest ways of silencing human rights organisations. On May 14, the registration of the Election Monitoring Centre (EMC), one of the most important organisations in Azerbaijan in the field of election observation, was suspended, notably on the grounds that a change of address had not been declared. As a result the organisation was not able to send independent observers to the October 2008 presidential elections.5
Finally, in December 2008, Parliament amended the Code of Administrative Violations. The fines imposed for not declaring grant aid received, which were previously between 20 and 50 AZN (from 19 to 48 Euros) were now increased to amounts from 1,000 to 2,500 AZN (from 966 to 2,416 Euros). Although, as of the end of 2008, no NGO had been sentenced on the basis of the modified Code, the very existence of these new provisions placed a de jure restriction to freedom of association.
Impunity for violence against human rights defenders
In 2008, attacks on human rights defenders continued, although the number of attacks lessened in comparison with previous years. In addition it remained extremely difficult for defenders who were attacked or in danger to obtain police protection or for their rights to be upheld by a judicial system that was in fact exploited by the authorities. As an example, in the Nakhchivan autonomous Republic, officials from the Human Rights Resource Centre (HRRC) continued in 2008 to be subjected to repeated acts of harassment in complete impunity. On August 27, 2008, Mr. Elman Abbasov, a member of HRRC and an expert with the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, as well as Ms. Malahat Nasibova and Mr. Ilqar Nasibov, correspondents of RFE/RL, were beaten by representatives of the forces of order and by civilians in the village of Nahram, while they were carrying out an investigation into cases of police intervention during attempts to hold peaceful rallies. They tried to file a complaint, which the police refused to register. Furthermore, no medical examination was made. Mr. Abbasov had already received death threats by phone on March 6, 2008.6
Judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders
Against the background of the deterioration of freedom of expression, a new threshold was crossed when libel proceedings were opened against a prominent human rights defender. On December 13, 2008, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov accused Ms. Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy in Azerbaijan (IPD), of "attacking the honour and dignity" of the police and the Interior Minister, following the publication of an interview on December 3 on the www.day.az website.7 In the article, Ms. Yunus criticised the fact that the right to a fair trial was not guaranteed in Azerbaijan, taking as an example the trial linked to the kidnapping of two girls, when police officers who were accused of human trafficking had not been prosecuted. Mr. Usubov claimed compensation of 100,000 manats (about 96,663 Euros), on the basis of Articles 4, 149 and 150 of the Civil Procedure Code and Articles 23.4, 23.6 and 44 of the Law on the Media. The trial of Ms. Yunus started in January 2009.
In addition, at the end of 2008, two human rights defenders were still deprived of liberty. Mr. Novruzali Mammadov, a defender of the rights of the Talysh ethnic minority, Head of the Talysh Cultural Centre, Editor-in-chief of the Voice of the Talysh (Tolishi Sedo) newspaper, and Department Head of the Linguistics Institute of the Science Academy, was sentenced on June 24, 2008 by the Court of Serious Crimes to ten years in prison for "high treason", after the Court argued that he had collected information necessary for the establishment of an administrative autonomy in the territories of Azerbaijan populated by Talysh people and had spread a negative image of Azerbaijan. His sentence was confirmed in appeal on December 26 and, at the end of December 2008, Mr. Mammadov remained detained in the Bailov preventive detention centre No. 1. Furthermore, although criminal proceedings against Mr. Sahib Teymurov, Chairman of the NGO Support of Children's Houses, who had defended the rights of an HIV-positive prostituted minor, were abandoned on May 20, 2008, the latter was on the same day forcibly placed in a psychiatric hospital, where he remained detained as of the end of 2008. Mr. Teymurov had been arrested in August 2007 for "extortion" and sentenced by the Court of Serious Crimes of the Republic of Azerbaijan. After being tortured by the police during his pre-trial detention, Mr. Teymurov began to suffer from mental problems.8
Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 20089
|Name of human rights defender||Violations||Intervention Reference||Date of Issuance|
|Mr. Novruzali Mammadov||Sentencing / Arbitrary detention / Torture / Ill-treatment||Urgent Appeal AZE 001/0808/OBS 139||August 20, 2008|
|Urgent Appeal AZE 001/0808/OBS 139.1||October 27, 2008|
|Press Release||December 15, 2008|
1 See OSCE Report of the Election Observation Mission in Azerbaijan dated December 15, 2008 and the Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the EU concerning the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, October 20, 2008. The EU noted in particular "that the elections still do not satisfy international standards of democracy, particularly as regards the organisation of public debate, the conduct of polling and the counting of votes".
2 These radio stations are still able to broadcast their programmes via Internet and satellite, which, in view of the existing infrastructures, considerably limits their audience.
3 On March 26, 2008, Mr. Eynulla Fatullaiev, the founder and Editor-in-chief of the opposition daily newspapers Gundalik Azerbaijan and Realny Azerbaijan, who was sentenced in October 2007 to eight and a half years in prison for "defamation", began a hunger strike to protest against media repression and detention conditions. He was joined by several journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents. The hunger strike was continued until April 7.
4 See ECHR Judgement No. 28736/05, Alyev and others v. Azerbaijan, December 18, 2008, and Judgement No. 4439/04, Ismayilov v. Azerbaijan, January 17, 2008.
5 See Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan (HRCA).
7 The title of the interview was: "In most cases, the courts in Azerbaijan are passing illegal and unwarranted decisions in relation to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms" (unofficial translation).
8 See HRCA.
9 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.