Monday, December 22, 2014

Jailed Azerbaijani Journalist Khadija Ismayilova's 'Letter Of Hope' For 2015

Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been held in pretrial detention since December 5.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

Award-winning Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who hosts a daily program for RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, has been held in pretrial detention in Baku since December 5 after being accused of encouraging a man to commit suicide -- a charge that has been broadly condemned as a flagrant attempt to silence her critical voice.

She is widely perceived to have often been the target of harassment and intimidation by the Azerbaijani government and pro-government forces for months because of her groundbreaking investigations into corruption at the highest levels of power, including President Ilham Aliyev and his family.

Ismayilova was able to send this brief note from jail to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

The letter has been edited for style and grammar.

My dear friends!

Here in pretrial detention, my thoughts are with you. My only regret is that here I am restricted from helping you.

You are doing an important job helping oppressed people. Happy New Year to you and all like-minded people.

A photo of Khadija Ismayilova's letter from Kurakhani prison (click to enlarge)A photo of Khadija Ismayilova's letter from Kurakhani prison (click to enlarge)
A photo of Khadija Ismayilova's letter from Kurakhani prison (click to enlarge)
A photo of Khadija Ismayilova's letter from Kurakhani prison (click to enlarge)

I am full of hope on the eve of this New Year that truth and justice will win.

Arrests and restrictions are part of our mission in telling the truth. My arrest proves one more time that it is important to make change happen: We need to build a new reality where truth will be a norm of life and telling the truth will not require courage.

You all know why I am here in prison. Uncovering corruption is the real reason. And the only way to prove oppressive regimes wrong is to continue uncovering corruption, to continue defending the rights of oppressed people. Yes, there is a price to pay. But it is worth it!

As Nazim Hikmet, the Turkish poet, wrote: "Those who carry the teardrops of their siblings as a heavy burden upon their neck shouldn't follow our path."

Stay strong!

Keep doing a good job!

More investigations, more efforts for justice and human rights -- this is my wish for 2015.


Prominent Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Briefly Detained

Nasrin Sotoudeh (holding sign) demonstrates in front of Iran's Bar Association in October.

RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was briefly detained and later released by authorities.

Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh's husband, wrote on his Facebook page that she was detained on December 10 by police, who stopped their vehicle in Tehran.

Only an hour later, Khandan posted an update saying Sotoudeh had been released.

Khandan, who was also detained but then released prior to Sotoudeh, demanded that authorities explain the reason for her detention, which he called "illegal."

Sotoudeh, who won the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov rights prize in 2012, was released from jail last year halfway through a six-year sentence for "actions against national security" and spreading "propaganda against the regime".

In September, a Tehran court banned her from practicing law for three years.

With reporting by  AFP


Protesters In Georgia, Moldova Demand Release Of Ismayilova

Protestersi n Tbilisi demand Khadija Ismayilova be freed on December 10.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service and RFE/RL's Moldovan Service

About 50 protesters have demonstrated outside Azerbaijan's embassy in Tbilisi, demanding that Azerbaijan's government release Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL.

The demonstrators on December 10 tried to hand a petition to an embassy official, who came out of the building, but the man refused to take it.

Meanwhile, about 20 protesters picketed Azerbaijan's Consulate in Georgia's southwestern city of Batumi on December 10 to demand the journalist's immediate release.

About a dozen of Ismayilova's supporters also rallied in front of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, on December 10.

Azerbaijani authorities on December 5 ordered Ismayilova to be held in pretrial detention for two months.

She was summoned to appear in court over a case in which a man accused her of encouraging him to commit suicide.

OSCE, European Union, and U.S. officials have expressed concern about Ismayilova's detention, calling her incarceration politically motivated and calling for her release.

Russian Opposition Activist Mokhnatkin Sentenced Again

RFE/RL's Russian Service

A Russian opposition activist has been convicted in absentia of assaulting police and sentenced to four years and six months in prison.

Sergei Mokhnatkin was sentenced on December 10.

The court placed him on a wanted list after he failed to appear for the ruling.

Mokhnatkin was found guilty of assaulting two police officers on December 31, 2013 during a protest in Moscow.

The protest was held by Strategy-31, a group that holds demonstrations aimed to draw attention to government violations of Article 31 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the right of peaceful assembly.

Mokhnatkin first came to prominence in 2009 when he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after being convicted of attacking a police officer during a similar rally that was dispersed.

He was pardoned by then-President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2012.

Azerbaijani Lawyer May Be Disbarred For Defending Rights Activists

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

BAKU -- A well-known Azerbaijani lawyer says he could be disbarred for defending prominent human rights activists and oppositionists.

Attorney Xalid Bagirov told RFE/RL on December 10 that Azerbaijan's Collegiate of Lawyers had suspended his license and officially asked a court to disbar him.

Bagirov says the move is politically motivated.

Last month, Bagirov was banned from defending jailed Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus.

Among his clients have been many prominent Azerbaijani human rights activists and bloggers, including  Ilqar Mamedov, Arif Yunus, and Abdula Abilov.

In 2011, Bagirov's attorney's license was suspended for one year after the chief of the Baku City police accused him of libel.


China Reportedly Releases Long-Serving Dissident

China has reportedly freed an ethnic Mongol dissident, Hada, who has spent much of the last two decades behind bars.

Hada's relatives told Reuters news agency that Hada was released on December 9 in Hohhot, the capital of China's Inner Mongolian region.

Chinese authorities did not announce the release officially, and no more details were given.

Hada was jailed in 1996 for 15 years for separatism, spying and supporting the Southern Mongolian Democratic Alliance, which sought greater rights for China's ethnic Mongols. He says the charges were trumped up.

After being released in December 2010, he had to serve a separate sentence of four years of "deprivation of political rights."

Beijing fears ethnic unrest in strategic border areas and keeps a tight rein on Inner Mongolia, as it does on Tibet and Xinjiang.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Lawyer: Jailed Azerbaijani Activist Yunus Can Barely Walk

Leyla Yunus (left) and Arif Yunus were arrested in July and August, respectively.

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 09.12.2014 16:13

RFE/RL and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

A lawyer for Leyla Yunus says the jailed Azerbaijani human rights activist can barely walk and has trouble breathing.

After meeting Yunus at a pretrial detention facility on December 9, lawyer Ramiz Mammadov told RFE/RL that "it took her 30 minutes to walk the 50-meter corridor."

He said Yunus, who he says has Hepatitis C, has received no new prescriptions in the detention center and is now having trouble getting medicine from outside.

Authorities have also refused to give her the results of medical tests.

"She is told the level of diabetes or blood pressure is normal while in fact they are high," Mammadov said. "She tells them, 'You are deceiving me.'"

Yunus, 58, was arrested in July, and her husband, Arif Yunus, was arrested in August.

They are being held separately in pretrial detention on charges of treason and other crimes, which they say are unfounded and politically motivated.

The United States and other Western nations have called for the couple's immediate release.

But increasingly alarming expressions of concern about their health from their lawyers have had no visible effect on the authorities in oil-rich Azerbaijan, whose government has little tolerance for dissent.

Her lawyers say Leyla Yunus is in extremely poor health and has been subjected to beatings and lack of medical care for advanced liver disease. 

In a letter to her daughter, Yunus said a group of men in civilian clothes had entered her cell last month and made sexually threatening gestures. 

Mammadov told RFE/RL after a previous visit that it appeared disease had "broken her liver. She is in very bad condition; she hardly breathes."

After his visit on December 9, Mammadov said her condition had not improved.

"She has asked for test results but has not been given any," he said. 

Mammadov also said she has not been given a hot meal since November 25 and that what food she has is sometimes stolen by other inmates in her increasingly crowded cell when she leaves to meet a lawyer.

He said one of her newer cellmates is a drug addict whose withdrawal symptoms make it impossible for her to rest.

A lawyer for Arif Yunus, also speaking on December 9, told RFE/RL his client is heavily medicated but continues to worry about the fate of his wife.

Khalid Bagirov said Arif Yunus is suffering from insomnia and has been receiving a type of medication since mid-October that is known to cause addiction.

Arif Yunus is "very concerned about Leyla's health," the lawyer said.

Western nations have repeatedly accused President Ilham Aliyev of stifling dissent and restricting basic freedoms since he succeeded his long-ruling father in 2003, but they have cultivated ties with Azerbaijan, whose oil and gas are an alternative to Russian energy supplies for Europe.

The United States said on December 1 that it is "increasingly concerned that the government of Azerbaijan is not living up to its international human rights commitments and obligations."


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"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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