May 27, Baku Today, the Azerbaijani government sentenced journalist and blogger Abdul Abilov to 5.6 years in prison on drug charges after he published Facebook posts fiercely critical of the authorities. The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns the ruling and urges Azerbaijani authorities to overturn this conviction and stop persecuting the critical voice.
“Today’s harsh conviction of blogger Abdul Abilov shows once again the extraordinary measures that authorities are willing to take to crush criticism of their repressive policies, inconsistent with the country’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe.”, IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov said.
Abilov’s sentencing comes amid a mounting crackdown on Azerbaijan’s journalists and bloggers. With eight journalists and seven bloggers and online activists behind bars, Azerbaijan is the worst jailer in the region, leaving behind countries like Belarus Russia and Uzbekistan.
“We strongly condemn the sentence and are extremely disappointed that the court imposed such a harsh punishment merely because Abilov exercised his fundamental right to peaceful freedom of expression,” Huseynov said.
“Unfortunately, this clear violation of the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights is only the latest example of the Azerbaijani government’s continued use of justice system to stifle independent and critical voices.”, Huseynov said.
Abilov was running Facebook page “Stop sycophants!” which was closed following after his arrest.
Abilov’s imprisonment comes just on the heels of other politically-motivated convictions in cases against human rights defenders Anar Mammadli, Bashir Suleymanli and journalist Parviz Hashimli.
IRFS is deeply concerned over continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan at a time when the country presides over Europe’s top human rights watchdog. ““The Council of Europe should react quickly and clearly. The Council must immediately appoint a special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan who would precisely analyze the current situation and take the issue up to the Parliamentary Assembly. That would be a symbolic measure that would not hurt, but only benefit the Azerbaijani people”, IRFS Head said.
IRFS once again calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to stop using courts to imprison critics and to release all those jailed for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.