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STATEMENT BY IRFS – THE AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES MUST END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN CRITICS
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the Azerbaijani authorities for the politically motivated persecution of women critics and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to put an end to all forms of pressure and to create equal and safe professional conditions in the country.
IRFS regrets to ascertain that the position of women critics has not improved even after Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe.
To this day, the Azerbaijani authorities have not investigated or prosecuted those responsible for the 2007 arrest and death by torture while in custody of opposition activist Faina Kungurova. She was arrested for attempting to protest along the route of the motorcade of President Ilham Aliyev.
Exactly eight years ago, on March 7, 2012, on the eve of the International Women’s Day, Azerbaijani authorities deliberately launched a campaign of moral terror and discreditation against the journalist Khadija Ismailova, who, at that time, was investigating the illegally acquired fortune of the family of President Ilham Aliyev. IRFS conducted a private investigation that proved that the Ministry of National Security (reformed and renamed the State Security Service in 2015) was the one behind the illegal hidden video of the journalist’s personal life and the further blackmail. The Ministry was carrying out a dirty political order from the ruling elite. Not limited to blackmail and bullying, the authorities arrested the journalist and sentenced her to 7.5 years in prison. After a year and a half of time served, the authorities released her, replacing the imprisonment with probation. To this day, Khadija Ismayilova cannot leave the country, she was not even allowed to visit and say goodbye to her sick mother who was being treated in Turkey and subsequently died on March 7, 2018.
The prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus, who investigated the arrests and tortures of numerous political prisoners, including the death of Faina Kungurova, became herself a political prisoner in 2014 and spent almost a year and a half behind bars, after which she was forced to leave Azerbaijan as a political refugee.
Another ardent critic of the government, journalist Sevinj Osmangizi, even after leaving the country through political migration to the United States, continues to be subjected to pressure from the special services of Azerbaijan who periodically try to threaten her with the distribution of illegally collected materials regarding her personal life, similar to the strategy and blackmail used against Khadija Ismailova. A few months ago, an unidentified person deliberately damaged the security systems of Sevinj’s car in order to provoke a car accident.
The young journalist Fatima Movlanly also faces blackmail with private material by the Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies. For the last two years a politically motivated and illegal travel ban was also put in place against her.
“Fell victims to the authorities’ oppression not only brave women like Faina Kugurova, Khadija Ismailova, Leyla Yunus, Gezal Bayramly and Nigar Yagublu, but also hundreds of mothers, sisters, wives and daughters of political prisoners who experienced the pain of the political persecution of their loved ones.” said the executive director of the IRFS, Emin Huseynov. “The Azerbaijani authorities did not stop only at my expulsion from the country and the arrest of my brother, a former prisoner of conscience, blogger Mehman Huseynov, they actually killed our mother Frangiz Huseynova with their deliberate inaction and negligence. Furthermore, our mother’s mysterious death coincided with the anniversary of my escape from the hands of the regime. To this day, the Azerbaijani authorities refuse to investigating the circumstances of our mother’s death, although it is unambiguously obvious to me that this crime was committed by the authorities to try to lure me back to Azerbaijan and inflict irreparable pain on me and my brother.” Huseynov concluded.
IRFS welcomes the International Women of Courage Award presented by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US First Lady Melanie Trump to one of the most important advocates for human rights in Azerbaijan, lawyer Shahla Humbatova.
IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to follow the example of the democratic nations in recognizing and promoting the merits of women and their contribution and struggle in building a free democratic society and not hinder them with repressive barriers.
IRFS urges the Azerbaijani authorities to investigate all the tragic deaths of women who fought for freedom of expression and to bring those responsible to justice. Also, to immediately suspend the criminal prosecution of women critics with full rehabilitation of their rights including the right to freedom of movement. We ask that the authorities restore Shakhla Gumbatova’s right to practice law and put an end the trumped-up criminal case opened against her, that Irada Javadova’s right to practice law is also restored. IRFS calls on the authorities to stop creating obstacles aimed at limiting freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association of women in Azerbaijan.
March 7, 2020