Council of Europe’s credibility is on the line as Azerbaijan jails two political activists

March 17th, 2014

Statement

The today’s conviction of Ilgar Mammadov and Tofig Yagublu further tarnished the country’s veneer of democracy ahead of its chairmanship in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) warned.

Today,  the Shaki Court of Grave Crimes sentenced politician Ilgar Mammadov and journalist Tofig Yagublu to 7 years and 5 years in prison under the Articles 220.1 and 315.2 of the Criminal Code (inciting violent riots). IRFS considers 13.5 months detention of Mammadli and Yagublu and today’s verdict to be a  breach of international standards and calls for the  appeals court to overturn their conviction and release them immediately.

“The shameful conviction of Mammadov and Yagublu is not befitting of a country that will assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe (CoE) in less than two months,” said IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov. “It is disappointing to see that at a moment when Azerbaijan should be proving its commitment to human rights, these convictions send out quite the opposite message. It is the CoE credibility which is on the line now.”

Yagublu, columnist of Yeni Musavat newspaper and deputy chairman of Musavat Party, and Mammadov, Chairman of Republican Alternative (REAL) Political Movement whose nomination in the latest presidential election was declined by the Central Election Commission, were arrested on 4 February 2013. They were accused of inciting violent anti-government riots on 23-24 January 2013 in Ismayilli when people took to the streets protesting social injustice and power abuse.

Yagublu and Mammadov assert that they went to Ismayilli to get firsthand information about the causes of the protests. Moreover, when they arrived in Ismayilli on 24 January 2013, the demonstrations were about to cease.

Ilgar Mammadov is one of the first persons, who challenged incumbent president Ilham Aliyev’s eligibility for a third term in office. Yagublu, in his turn, says he might be revenged for casting doubt on the truthfulness of the statement of the General Prosecutor Office on the Oil Academy killings case.

Mammadov and Yagublu are in a row of the latest targets of an escalating government crackdown on the critical voice in Azerbaijan. Right now, there are 9 journalists, 3 human rights defenders and 5 free speech activists in detention or imprisoned for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

IRFS calls on the government of Azerbaijan to reverse this disturbing trend and carry out the reforms it promised. The first step should be to release and drop charges against all journalists, bloggers, free speech activists and human rights defenders who are currently under investigation or are serving prison time.

IRFS calls on the Council of Europe as such, as well as individual member states, not to turn a blind eye to the human rights crisis in Azerbaijan and denounce the serious and persistent breaches of fundamental human rights and freedoms in this country.

IRFS condemns the authorities of Azerbaijan for having unjustifiably failed to fulfill Azerbaijan’s human rights obligations before the Council of Europe.

IRFS calls on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to take a tougher line with member states that fail to fulfill obligations. If member states are allowed to get away with blatant violations and fail to comply with the Council of Europe rules and treaties the organization, as such, loses both respect and influence.