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The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the sentencing of Azerbaijani activist Giyas Ibrahimov to a staggering 10 years in jail. On Tuesday, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes convicted Ibrahimov on serious drug charges.
Ibrahimov, 22-year old, was arrested in May, 2016, after he and fellow activist Bayram Mammadov sprayed the slogan ‘Happy Slaves Day’ on a monument of the late president Heydar Aliyev – father of the country’s current president. ‘Happy Slaves Day’ is a play on words for ‘Happy Flower Day.’ In the recent years, Azerbaijani regime has spent millions from the state budget to celebrate the Flower Day on 10 May, which is also Heydar Aliyev’s birthday.
Both activists went missing in the evening of the same day (10 May). The Ministry of Internal Affairs released information on their arrests only on 12 May. They were tortured while in custody, as documented by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) Mission.
The timing of the arrest and commonly employed fictitious drug charges strongly suggest that Giyas Ibrahimov was imprisoned for merely writing a graffiti ‘Azerbaijan is simply a dictatorship where highly intelligent young man is effectively deprived of his freedom for affronting the ruling regime’, IRFS Director Emin Huseynov said. ’This deplorable 10-year conviction serves as a testament to shrinking space for freedom of expression in Azerbaijan” Huseynov said.
Earlier this month, Baku Appeal Court reduced footballer Javid Huseynov’s sentence from 4 years to 1 year and 2 months, and released him. Javid Huseynov was one of those convicted last year in journalist Rasim Aliyev’s murder case.
‘The 10-year conviction of youth activist Giyas Ibrahimov on spurious drug charges that followed a scandalous release of the person engaged in murdering a journalist is a prime example of travesty of justice in Azerbaijan’, IRFS Director said.
‘Furthermore, we are absoluttely adamant that 10-year sentence to youth activist for painting a graffiti on Heydar Aliyev’s statue is a direct order given to court by country’s president’, Huseynov said.
It must be stressed that six journalists, five bloggers and two poets are currently behind bars on trumped-up charges for expressing critical opinions. Among them, bloggers Abdul Abilov and Rashad Ramazanov who are also serving lengthy prison sentences on trumped-up drug charges. This is in addition to dozens of political prisoners, among them a high-profile politician Ilgar Mammadov sentenced to seven years in jail on trumped up, politically-motivated charges in 2014 and whose immediate release was ordered by the European Court of Human Rights in May 2014.
Despite the official government’s position purporting respect for freedom of expression, the proposals made by Members of Parliament intended to tighten oversight of online content, arrests of dissenting activists, restrictive amendments proposed to the law on mass media, and threats made to opposition representatives over their Facebook posts illustrate that the freedom of expression is increasingly suppressed by the authorities in Azerbaijan.
IRFS calls on the government of Azerbaijan to immediately and unconditionally release all arrested journalists, bloggers and youth activists, including Giyas Ibrahimov.
IRFS urges international community to strongly respond to acute human rights violations, including freedom of expression, that are in flagrant breach of Azerbaijan’s international commitments and obligations.
Furthermore, IRFS also calls on international donors, including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Investment Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to refrain from supporting initiatives in Azerbaijan until the government releases the political prisoners and implements genuine reforms ending its crackdown on the civil society.