Azerbaijan Urged to Release Activists and Journalists

Human rights defender Rasul Jafarov at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly in Baku in June 2014.
Human rights defender Rasul Jafarov at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly in Baku in June 2014.

Azerbaijan’s international partners should insist on the release of wrongfully detained and imprisoned critics as the country prepares to host the first European Games, Human Rights Watch said today.

The humanitarian organization also released a new video featuring prominent activists and journalists detained in the months leading up to the games.

Azerbaijan will host the inaugural European Games, a multi-sport event for over 6,000 athletes, from June 12-28 in the capital, Baku.

“With less than two months to go to the European Games, the spotlight is increasingly on Azerbaijan’s terrible human rights record and its political prosecutions of critics,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

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“This is a key moment for Azerbaijan’s partners, including the European Union, to call on Azerbaijan to release the critics it has thrown behind bars and end its crackdown.”

European leaders should make clear they will not be sending high-level delegations to the games’ opening ceremonies unless people imprisoned for criticizing the government are freed and the government’s crackdown on independent groups and activists ends, Human Rights Watch said.

The video features Rasul Jafarov, who was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison on April 16 on politically motivated criminal charges of tax evasion, abuse of power, illegal business activities, and embezzlement.

On the eve of his arrest in August 2014, Jafarov had initiated a Sport for Rights campaign to raise awareness about politically motivated imprisonment and other human rights abuses in Azerbaijan ahead of the European Games.

On March 31, Azerbaijani authorities refused entry to a Human Rights Watch senior researcher, Giorgi Gogia, who had planned to monitor the trials of Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev, a prominent human rights lawyer who is facing similar politically motivated criminal charges, said Human Rights Watch.

The European Olympic Committees (EOC), an association of 50 European National Olympic Committees, awarded the European Games to Azerbaijan in 2012 and oversees the games’ preparations.

Among the EOC’s goals is to spread throughout Europe the Olympic ideals as defined by the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Charter.

Photo / Video courtesy: Human Rights Watch

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Rakesh Raman