The United States is calling for Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova to be reinstated into the country’s bar association after she lost her membership earlier this month in what she claimed was a politically motivated act.
Humbatova’s “work, and the work of other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, should be celebrated, not punished, and we call on those responsible to expedite her reinstatement to the Azerbaijani bar,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a March 26 statement.
The prominent lawyer was disbarred on March 5 for failing to pay membership fees of $260 to the Azerbaijani Bar Association.
The lawyer said at the time that the board did not inform her about the debt and she found about her disbarment from the media. She then paid her membership fee immediately.
Humbatova is one of several human rights lawyers to have been disbarred in recent years, leaving few advocates to take on cases in a country renown for cracking down on the media and critical voices.
“We encourage all steps toward systemic reforms in Azerbaijan, especially those regarding the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms -- areas that will benefit the Azerbaijani people and create opportunities to deepen our cooperation,” Blinken said in the statement.
Last year, the United States honored Humbatova with the secretary of state’s International Women of Courage Award.
Earlier this month, Freedom House published its 2021 report on global democracy, saying Azerbaijan's judiciary "is corrupt and subservient to the executive."
"Although nominally independent, the Azerbaijani Bar Association acts on the orders of the Ministry of Justice and is complicit in the harassment of human rights lawyers," the report said.