IRFS outraged by blogger’s death in detention

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns in the strongest possible terms blogger Mehman Galandarov’s death in detention last Friday, 28 April, and calls on the authorities to do everything possible to identify the person or persons responsible and bring them to justice.

On 28 April it became known that, Mehman Galandarov, an Azerbaijani activist and blogger died in Baku Detention Centre No. 1, where he had been held in pre-trial detention since 7 February. Local police apprehended him whilst he was attempting to spray a political slogan on the statue of former President Haydar Aliyev on 7 February in Baku. He was charged with drug trafficking (Article 234.2 of the Criminal Code), and Nasimi District Court ordered his pre-trial detention for three months.

“Azerbaijan’s regime continues the war against dissenting voices. The fact that Galandarov was in prison in the first place under false charges is unacceptable, but the fact that authorities either incompetently allowed him to take his own life or were somehow involved in his death, is egregiously criminal and must be met with action”, IRFS Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Emin Huseynov said.

Authorities claim he was found hanged in his cell. IRFS finds this is highly questionable, as a pattern of murky circumstances suggests that the blogger was either deliberately brought to death through torture or even murdered.

Galandarov was secretly buried so that other activists and journalists were unable to attend or pay their respects. It is clear that Galandarov’s family members are not the ones who arranged his burial services. The family refuses to talk about his case and it seems as though they have been pressured into silence.

The fact that independent representatives were not able to see the body and that the funeral took place so quickly and secretly points to shady behaviour on the part of the officials.

Furthermore, although the news about Galandarov’s death became known to local human rights defenders on 28 April, the Ministry of Justice had been refusing the very fact of his death up until 29 April, when the Public Prosecutor finally reacted with a statement that Galandarov took his life in detention centre and investigation was launched under the charge of inciting to suicide (Article 125 of the Penal Code).

IRFS resolutely condemns the actions of the authorities involved in the case of Mehman Galadarov as either criminal negligence or more nefarious criminal actions. IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to conduct a swift investigation that considers the possibility that Galandarov was brought to death or even murdered in connection with his activism. IRFS calls for urgent reforms of the judicial system as well as the systemic problem of corruption that is most prevalent at the top.

We demand the immediate release of all identified political prisoners and a deeper investigation into all the other cases of repression where the defendants do not have the influence or fame to be recognised as political prisoners. There are many more than just the 150 officially recognised prisoners who are actually repressed by the Azerbaijani authorities.

In 2009, Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management, was tortured to death in a Moscow prison after investigating a multi-million-USD tax fraud committed by Russian officials. In response to his murder, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012, sanctioning those responsible for Magnitsky’s death from entering the U.S. or utilising the U.S. financial system. Last year, the U.S. Congress voted to expand the Magnitsky Act to sanction human rights abusers worldwide (The Global Magnitsky Act).

As the Magnitsky case highlights, corrupt and repressive officials often count on the Western financial system as a vehicle for legitimising and protecting their ill-gotten gains. In this light, IRFS calls on the European Union, United States and Western countries to impose financial sanctions and visa restrictions on the members of Azerbaijani ruling establishment responsible for grave human rights violations committed against individuals seeking to promote human rights or to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials.

It is time for the international community to move from mere condemnation to action to ensure a safe environment for critics and independent media in Azerbaijan to speak out.

1 May 2017

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