Youth Activists Arrested in a Renewed Crackdown on Free Expression

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the arrest of the youth activists Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov on spurious drug charges; a move clearly taken in retaliation for their criticism of the political regime. IRFS calls on the government to cease its policy of silencing dissent through arrests, and to immediately release the two the youths.

Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov, both NIDA civic movement members and final-year students at Azerbaijan Slavic University, have been arrested on drug charges.

Youth activist Giyas Ibrahimov wrote “Happy Slave Holiday” and “fuck the system” on the monument for Heydar Aliyev, the former president and father of the current president. The slogan appeared on the monument on May 10, Heydar Aliyev’s birthday, marked by the government as a holiday.

The photo of the graffiti was shared[1] on the NIDA civic movement’s Facebook page late on May 9. The two youth were missing from the evening hours of May 10. It was only on May 12 that the Ministry of Internal Affairs published information on their arrest. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as a result of an operational search by officers of the Drug Enforcement Department of Baku City Main Police Office, Police Office #22 of Nasimi District Police Department and Police Office #25 of Nizami District Police Department, 2.607 grams of heroin were found on Giyas Ibrahimov and seized. An additional 1.1 kg of heroin was found and seized during a search of his apartment. As a result of other operational search actions carried out by the officers of the Drug Enforcement Department of Baku City Main Police Office and Police Office #12 of Sabunchu District Police Department, 2.904 grams of heroin were found on Sabunchu settlement resident Bayram Mammadov and seized. An additional 1.15 kg of heroin was found and seized during a search of his house.

Both activists have been charged under Articles 234.4.1 (illegal manufacturing, purchase, storage, transportation, transfer or selling of narcotics, psychotropic substances or their precursors – on preliminary arrangement by a group of persons or an organized group) and 234.4.3 (- in a large amount) of the Criminal Code.   

IRFS believes that the youths have been arrested on false charges for exercising their right to freely express their opinions and criticize the current political regime. The Azerbaijani authorities have for many years failed to fulfill their obligations to uphold the right to freedom of expression.   

IRFS reiterates that drug charges are one of the regime’s favorite tools for silencing critical voices. In previous years, youth activists, journalists and opposition representatives have also been arrested on drug charges for criticizing the government. If you criticize the government, then kilograms of drugs will be ‘found’ in your house.

IRFS underscores that the law enforcement agencies detained the youths unlawfully and, in fact, kidnapped them for two days. According to the Azerbaijani Constitution and Criminal Procedure Code, when a person is arrested, his relatives must be informed.

IRFS emphasizes that subjection of the youths to torture and taking of statements under duress represents a violation of both domestic and international legislation. The two youths were physically assaulted at Baku City Police Office, denied adequate food at the temporary detention center for 2 days, and forced to clean the closet and the yard. Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which Azerbaijan has also ratified, prohibits torture. 

The failure to provide the youths with a lawyer is also a serious violation of the legislation. Upon their detention, the youths were not given access to a lawyer. Lawyer Elchin Sadigov was denied a meeting with the two activists at the temporary detention center of Narimanov District Police Department, where they were being held. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, detainees must be provided with defense counsel from the moment of detention. The European Convention also provides for the right of defense.  

 “The authorities have re-launched their crackdown after the March 17, 2016 pardon decree. It is likely that we will see more arrests in the coming months, because the authorities will continue to use arrests as a means of discouraging people, as in previous years. International organizations should assess the situation in Azerbaijan correctly and take concrete steps,”said  IRFS chairman Emin Huseynov. 

IRFS urges the Azerbaijani government to give up its tactic of intimidating critics via arrest; to immediately release youth activists Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov; and to punish the law enforcement officers who have subjected the activists to torture.

At the same time, IRFS calls on international organizations to react immediately to human rights violations committed in Azerbaijan, and to demand that the Azerbaijani government upholds its domestic and international obligations.  

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 of the ruling regime until the government releases the political prisoners and can provide clear guarantees that it will end its crackdown on civil society along with a clear plan of urgent radical reform.



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