On International Women’s Day, IRFS Calls for Support to Female Free Expression Advocates in Azerbaijan

Tomorrow marks International Women’s Day, an occasion geared toward promoting gender equality across the globe. As women seek greater representation in politics and media, they also increasingly face the threat of pressure and attacks by authoritarian governments. This is exactly the case in Azerbaijan, where several media and freedom of expression female activists have become subject to rough treatment by authoritarian regime.

As such, an American-British human rights activist, Rebecca Vincent, has recently been kicked out of Azerbaijan because of her public criticism of Azerbaijan’s deteriorating human rights and freedom of expression record. In December 2012, the authorities revoked her residence permit while she was travelling outside of the country, preventing her from returning to her home in Baku. No official explanation has been given, but diplomatic negotiations confirmed that the action was politically motivated.

Vincent says she will continue to speak out for justice and human rights in Azerbaijan.

In March 2012, journalist Khadija Ismayilova, award-winning investigative journalist with the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was targeted when a sex video of her filmed by hidden camera was posted to the Internet. Ismayilova had refused to be silenced after she was subjected to a blackmail attempt the previous week, when she received intimate photos taken of her with a note stating “Whore, behave. Or you will be defamed.”

One year on, the Azerbaijani authorities have failed to seriously investigate the violations of privacy in Ismayilova case, and no one has been brought to justice.

The continued harassment, slander campaigns, blackmail, and threats against her for exposing corruption within the high echelons of the Azerbaijani government could not stop Ismayilova from doing her job.

There are more cases against female freedom of expression activists in Azerbaijan.

Last month, IRFS lawyer, Gunay Ismayilova, experienced police harassment and was detained while she was holding a training on citizen participation in public policy in Khachmaz region of Azerbaijan.

In August 2011, the authorities ordered to bulldozer the office of Leyla Yunus, a human rights defender, who long campaigned against forced evictions in the city.

Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. On this occasion, IRFS calls on the government of Azerbaijan to:

  • Detain and prosecute those responsible for the blackmail attempt and violation of privacy of outspoken female journalist Khadija Ismayilova in March 2012.
  • Reverse the decision to revoke Rebecca Vincent’s residence permit and allow her to return to the country to continue her activities to promote human rights and free expression.
  • End harassment against all free expression and human rights advocates.
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