Condemning arrest and detention of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mr. Ramil Huseynli, Chargé d’Affaires
Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Canada
275 Slater Street, Suite 1203
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5H9

Dear Mr. Huseynli,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE condemns the arrest and detention of human rights defender Rasul Jafarov. Following an interrogation at the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Jafarov was arrested on August 2, 2014. He was then sentenced to a three month pre-trial detention on charges of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of authority. Two of Jafarov’s recent human rights campaigns, Sing for Democracy and Art for Democracy, have brought attention to Azerbaijan’s regrettable human rights record.

It appears that Jafarov is being targeted due to his work as a human rights defender, as the charges stem from his inability to register his non-governmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Club. Yet, the government of Azerbaijan has consistently blocked the registration of Human Rights Club since 2010, preventing it from gaining the legal status necessary to operate. This is part of a broader campaign of laying criminal charges against human rights NGOs working in Azerbaijan that has ensnared International Media Support (IMS), among others.

The arrest of Jafarov is the latest in a pattern of human rights activists facing legal persecution to prevent them from engaging in advocacy. A week before Jafarov’s arrest, Leyla Yunus, one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights activists, and her husband Arif Yunus were arrested on illegitimate charges of state treason, large-scale fraud, forgery, tax evasion, and illegal business. Analysts have speculated that the arrests of Yunus and Jafarov are linked to a report they contributed to on political prisoners in the country, which was released a week prior.

CJFE calls on the government of Azerbaijan to immediately release Rasul Jafarov and Leyla Yunus, and to drop the spurious charges against them. CJFE also urges the country’s government to cease in its persecution of human rights defenders and journalists, which appears designed to silence public dialogue and stifle free expression.

We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Cc: Mr. John Holmes, Ambassador of Canada to Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs