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Anar Mammadli, A Tireless Rights Advocate

Anar Mammadli
Anar Mammadli

From his jail in Azerbaijan, human rights activist Anar Mammadli conveyed his gratitude on September 29 after being awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize.

"Anar says that this prize constitutes a big boost of moral strength and a show of solidarity not just for him and the organization whose member he is, but to all currently detained right defenders," his father, Asaf Mammadov, said in Strasbourg.

Mammadov was addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which awards the annual prize in partnership with the Vaclav Havel Library and the Charter 77 Foundation.

The prize is named after the late former Czech president, a playwright, and world-renowned democracy campaigner. It recognizes outstanding work in support of civil society and the defense of human rights.

Mammadli embraced civic engagement early on, founding the Secular Youth Progress Organization in the late 1990s when he was just 19.

After working as a journalist, he quickly went on to establish the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS), an independent election watchdog that since 2001 has denounced election fraud and politically-motivated arrests.

While Mammadli is well-known in his home country, it was his prosecution and subsequent jailing earlier this year that brought his work to international attention.

EMDS came under investigation by the Azerbaijani authorities after documenting widespread violations during the October 2013 presidential election that gave Ilham Aliyev a third term.

Its scathing assessment of the vote was echoed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Mammadli is currently serving a 5 1/2-year sentence for illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of authority for allegedly seeking to influence election results.

He has firmly rejected the charges, which he denounced in closing remarks before his verdict as "harassment and pressure against freedom of association, assembly and expression."

His jailing has drawn international condemnation, particularly since Azerbaijan currently chairs the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers.

The United States, Britain, the European Union, and a series of rights groups have called for his release.

Amnesty International, which has declared Mammadli a prisoner of conscience, described his arrest as "the latest in a series of increasingly repressive measures adopted by the Azerbaijani authorities to silence dissenting voices" and said it sent "a chilling message to Azerbaijani civil society."

"Anar would like to assure his colleagues and Europe that the latest wave of political repressions will not undermine the belief in the victory of human rights shared by him and other political prisoners," his father added in Strasbourg. "Anar says that although the movement for human rights has been weakened in our country, there is no other option but to continue on this path."

The Vaclav Havel prize is accompanied by a sum of 60,000 euros, a trophy, and a diploma.

The 2013 prize, the first, was awarded to Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski.

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