Monday, April 27, 2015


HRW Calls For Pressure On Azerbaijan To Release Critics

Arif (left) and Leyla Yunus are among the dozens of human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists, and bloggers arrested or imprisoned in the last year.

RFE/RL

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging the international community to press Azerbaijan to "release the critics it has thrown behind bars and end its crackdown" as it prepares to host a major sporting event.

HRW released a video on April 20 that shows prominent activists and journalists who have been detained in the months leading up to the first-ever European Games, which will bring more than 6,000 athletes to Baku from June 12-28.

"European leaders should make clear they will not be sending high-level delegations to the opening ceremonies unless people jailed for criticizing the government are freed and the government's crackdown on independent groups and activists ends," it said.

HRW said earlier in April that President Ilham Aliyev's government had used a range of bogus criminal charges in the last year to arrest or imprison at least 35 human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists, and bloggers.

Among those rights groups say are jailed for political reasons are activist Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif; Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor; human rights lawyer Intiqam Aliyev; and youth activist Rasul Cafarov.

HRW's video, Azerbaijan Locks Up Critics Ahead of European Games: 

In a statement on April 20, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, said that the "case of Leyla and Arif Yunus illustrates the pattern of repression that has emerged in Azerbaijan."

He said that "human rights defenders are harassed through restrictive NGO legislation and selectively targeted with criminal prosecutions on charges that defy credibility."

"The situation of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan is of great concern," Muiznieks added.

"Reprisals, including judicial harassment, against critical voices in general, and those denouncing human rights violations in the country in particular, is a widespread phenomenon in Azerbaijan," he concluded.

Several Western countries and rights groups have called for the European Games as well as a Formula One auto race planned for next year not to be held in Azerbaijan because of its widely criticized human rights records,

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, however, said on April 19 that the Azerbaijani Grand Prix was on track to take place as scheduled.

He said that there "doesn't seem to be any big problem" in Azerbaijan.

The United States said last month that releasing jailed activists and journalists would demonstrate adherence to Azerbaijan's "commitments to uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens."

A report by HRW said that in 2014 the Azerbaijani government "escalated repression against its critics, marking a dramatic deterioration in its already poor rights record."


Belarusian Journalist Faces Trial For Working Without Accreditation

RFE/RL's Belarus Service

HOMEL, Belarus -- A Belarusian journalist contributing as a freelancer to the Poland-based Belsat television channel is being tried on suspicion of working without accreditation.

Kastus Zhukouski was summoned to a hearing in southeastern city of Homel on April 20.

The legal pressure comes after Zhukouski interviewed a resident in a nearby village regarding financial hardships faced by elderly citizens on April 12. 

Belsat aired the interview on April 13.

Belsat TV is a Polish state-run satellite television channel that broadcasts into Belarus in the Belarusian and Russian languages, irritating authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government.

Zhukouski has been tried twice before over reports for Belsat TV.

On April 2, he was fined $375, and in December he was fined $65 for working without proper accreditation. 


Khodorkovsky: Open Russia Search Linked To Kadyrov Film

RFE/RL's Russian Service

MOSCOW -- Exiled tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has condemned a police search of his Moscow-based organization and said he believes it was linked to a planned documentary about the Kremlin-backed leader of Russia's Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Police searched the offices of Otkrytaya Rossia (Open Russia) offices and confiscated computers on April 16.

Khodorkovsky's press secretary, Olga Pispanen, told RFE/RL on April 16 that police said they suspected Otkrytaya Rossia was producing "extremist leaflets and posters" and planned to distribute them at an opposition rally on April 19.

Khodorkovsky wrote on his website that the "real reason" for the search was the organization’s project to shoot a documentary about "Kadyrov's place" in Russian politics.

Pispanen said that the group never planned to take part in the April 19 rally.

Khodorkovsky served more than 10 years in prison, on financial-crimes convictions he said were politically motivated, before he was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin in December 2013 and whisked out of Russia. He lives in Switzerland.

Kadyrov publicly declared Khodorkovsky his personal enemy after Khodorkovsky urged international media to reprint French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to express solidarity with its staffers who were killed by Islamist gunmen in January. 

Putin relies on Kadyrov to keep Chechnya under control in the wake of two devastating post-Soviet separtist wars. Critics say he flouts Russian law and employs abusive and repressive tactics in his rule over the North Caucasus province.

With reporting by tvrain.ru

Relatives Believe Uzbek Man Was Tortured To Death In Custody

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

BEKOBOD, Uzbekistan -- Relatives of an Uzbek man who died in police custody this month say they believe he was tortured to death by police.  

Police in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation said that Kamoliddin Kuziev, 26, committed suicide.

Kuziev's brother, Bobomurod Kuziev, told RFE/RL on April 16 that Kamoliddin had been summoned to the police on April 7 and held on suspicion of hooliganism.

He said that two days later, police brought Kamoliddin's dead body to his family, told them he hanged himself in detention, and urged them to bury him "as soon as possible."

"They even dug a grave for him before informing us about his death," Bobomurod Kuziev said.

He said that he and his relatives found numerous signs of torture on his brother's dead body. 

Last week, Amnesty International called on the European Union to increase pressure on Uzbek government to stop torture in Uzbek jails and prisons. 


Police Search Moscow Offices Of Khodorkovsky-Founded Organization

RFE/RL

Russian police on April 16 searched the Moscow offices of Open Russia, a pro-democracy initiative founded by the exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Open Russia said several police officers entered the organization’s Moscow office after presenting a search warrant.

Open Russia released a copy of the search warrant, which accused the organization of planning to print leaflets calling for "extremist activities."

The search warrant also alleged that Open Russia was planning to distribute the leaflets at an opposition rally in Moscow on April 19.

Khodorkovsky's press secretary Olga Pispanen told Dozhd TV that the group never planned to take part in the April 19 rally.

Russian opposition groups announced on April 15 that they would hold single-person actions in Moscow on April 19 rather than gathering together for a mass protest rally, which requires approval from authorities.

Khodorkovsky currently resides in Switzerland after serving more than 10 years in a Russian jail on embezzlement charges.

He maintains his innocence and says authorities filed politically motivated charges against him because of his opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With additional reporting by tvrain.ru

Baku Sentences Rights Activist; PEN To Honor Jailed Journalist

Amnesty International has recognized Rasul Cafarov as a prisoner of conscience.

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 16.04.2015 09:20

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

BAKU -- A prominent human rights activist in Azerbaijan has been sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.

The Baku Court for Grave Crimes found Rasul Cafarov guilty of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of office on April 16.

After his sentence was pronounced, Cafarov said the verdict was politically motivated.

Cafarov’s lawyer, Fariz Namazly, said after the ruling: “We will appeal the illegal and politically motivated verdict.

Cafarov was arrested in August after he announced plans for a campaign to draw attention to human rights abuses by authorities in Azerbaijan ahead of the European Games, which the oil-producing Caspian Sea nation is hosting in June.

The 30-year-old Cafarov previously helped organize several rights campaigns -- including one called Sing For Democracy, which used Baku’s hosting of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest to draw international attention to Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record.

The chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Democracy, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Questions, Isabel Santos has condemned Cafarov's sentencing and called on the international community to recognize him as a prisoner of conscience.

Amnesty International has recognized Cafarov as a prisoner of conscience. 

Earlier in April, the U.S.-based nongovernmental group Human Right Watch said President Ilham Aliyev's government has used a range of bogus criminal charges during the previous year to arrest or imprison at least 35 human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists, and bloggers.

Khadija IsmayilovaKhadija Ismayilova
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Khadija Ismayilova
Khadija Ismayilova

Meanwhile, a New York-based group that works to defend freedom of expression has announced that a jailed Azerbaijani investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL, Khadija Ismayilova, will be honored on May 5 with a prestigious media freedom award.

The PEN American Center, part of a worldwide association of writers that defends those who are harassed, imprisoned, and killed for their views, said Ismayilova has been chosen to receive the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

In an April 15 statement, PEN said: "Khadija Ismayilova is an award-winning reporter whose hard-hitting investigations have revealed corruption at the highest levels of power in Azerbaijan, including the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev." 

RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic welcomed the award, calling it "a powerful acknowledgement of the value of Khadija's work and the wrongfulness of her imprisonment," and a "significant addition to efforts to gain her release."

Ismayilova was arrested on December 5 on charges of inciting a man to attempt suicide.

PEN said the charges were "trumped-up" and followed "years of escalating harassment by government and pro-government forces."

The plaintiff in the initial case against Ismayilova, Tural Mustafayev, told RFE/RL on April 7 that he had formally asked the Prosecutor-General’s Office to withdraw his complaint against her.

Mustafayev said he was under emotional stress when he lodged his accusation last year and now wants to “make peace” with Ismayilova.

But new charges were filed against Ismayilova in February alleging tax evasion, illegal business activities, and abuse of power.

Ismayilova denies wrongdoing and says all the charges against her are politically motivated.

Her jailing has been widely condemned by international rights groups as part of a campaign by Aliyev's government to intimidate and silence independent activists and journalists.

On December 4, a day before Ismayilova’s arrest,  Aliyev's chief of staff, Ramiz Mehdiyev, publicly accused her of treason.

Later in December, the RFE/RL bureau in Baku was ransacked and ordered closed by investigators, while dozens of RFE/RL reporters were summoned by police for questioning related to their employment.

In March, when a Baku court held an unannounced snap hearing that prolonged Ismayilova's pretrial detention until May 24, the prosecutors linked the additional charges brought against her to allegations that RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service had been operating in the country as an illegal entity since 2008.

Pejic said then, "The case against RFE/RL, and by extension the case against Khadija, has no basis in reality -- the Azeris are making these things up as they go. We have memoranda from state agencies recognizing our broadcasting rights, tax documents, and years of approved Azeri state audits -- everything required. All of these charges should be dropped and Khadija should be released immediately." 

The United States said last month that releasing jailed Azerbaijanis including Ismayilova, rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif, human rights lawyer Intiqam Aliyev and others would demonstrate adherence to Azerbaijan's "commitments to uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens."

With additional reporting by AFP and The New York Times

PEN To Honor Jailed Azerbaijani Journalist Ismayilova

Khadija Ismayilova

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

Khadija Ismayilova, a jailed Azerbaijani investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL, will be honored with a prestigious media freedom award next month.

The PEN American Center said Ismayilova has been chosen to receive the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on May 5.

"Khadija Ismayilova is an award-winning reporter whose hard-hitting investigations have revealed corruption at the highest levels of power in Azerbaijan, including the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev," PEN said in a statement on April 15.

Ismayilova was arrested on December 5 on suspicion of inciting a man to attempt suicide.

PEN said the charges were "trumped-up" and followed "years of escalating harassment by government and pro-government forces."

The complainant in that case has asked prosecutors to withdraw his complaint, but new charges were brought against Ismayilova in February alleging tax evasion, illegal business activities, and abuse of power.

She denies wrongdoing and says all the charges are politically motivated.

Her jailing has been widely condemned by international rights groups as part of a campaign by Aliyev's government to intimidate and silence independent activists and journalists in the oil-producing former Soviet republic.

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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