Eurasia Prisoner

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Giyas Ibrahimov

Update: Giyas Ibrahimov was released by presidential pardon almost three years into his sentence on March 17, 2019, ahead of Noruz—Azerbaijan’s New Year celebration. The presidential pardoning of prisoners is common around this time, but generally does not include political prisoners. Upon his release, Giyas gave an interview about how he intends to continue his activism and how he thinks the international community can help activists working under duress in Azerbaijan. Read the interview here.

In 2016, Giyas Ibrahimov was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison along with fellow activist Bayram Mammadov. Both Giyas and Bayram are students and members of NIDA Civic Movement, a pro-democracy youth organization that has been targeted by the government.

On May 9, 2016, the two students painted an anti-government message on the statue of Haydar Aliyev, the former President of Azerbaijan and the father of current president Ilham Aliyev. That same day, they posted the photos of the graffiti on social media. The next day, both were kidnapped and taken to the police station where they were brutally tortured. They were asked to publicly beg forgiveness and to confess to serious drug crimes. After they refused to admit guilt, drugs were planted at their apartments and they were then arrested on fabricated drug charges.

In December 2017, Giyas Ibrahimov and his father were accused of contempt of court. As a result, Giyas’ imprisonment has been extended three more months while his father, Hasan Ibrahimov, has been sentenced to eighteen months of correctional labor with a 20-percent reduction of his salary. Both of them have received death threats during their imprisonment.

Baku Police Chief Mirgafar Seyidov, who tortured Bayram and Giyas in a police station, was included in list of candidates for targeted sanctions by United States in the framework of Global Magnitsky Act. Amnesty International also highlighted their cases in its campaign for the release of political prisoners.

Bayram Mammadov

Update: On March 30, 2019, Bayram Mammadov was sentenced to 30 days in prison just two weeks after his release by presidential pardon on March 17, 2019. He was charged with ‘disobedience to law enforcement,’ but his arrest is seen by his lawyer as a direct response to his outspoken criticism of the government on social media and his pledge to fight for the rights of all Azeri political prisoners. According to Human Rights Watch, “a day before he was rearrested, Mammadov gave an interview to a local online media outlet criticizing the authorities.” During the first four days of his detention, he was denied access to lawyers or his family. During his trial on April 2, 2019, he alleged mistreatment by security forces and had clear bruising on his face.

In 2016, Bayram Mammadov was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison along with fellow activist Giyas Ibrahimov. Both were released almost three years into their sentence on March 17, 2019, ahead of Noruz—Azerbaijan’s New Years celebration. The presidential pardoning of prisoners is common around this time, but generally does not include political prisoners. Both Giyas and Bayram are students and members of NIDA Civic Movement, a pro-democracy youth organization that has been targeted by the government.

On May 9, 2016, the two students painted an anti-government message on the statue of Haydar Aliyev, the former President of Azerbaijan and the father of current president Ilham Aliyev. That same day, they posted the photos of the graffiti on social media. The next day, both were kidnapped and taken to the police station where they were brutally tortured. They were asked to publicly beg forgiveness and to confess to serious drug crimes. After they refused to admit guilt, drugs were planted at their apartments and they were then arrested on fabricated drug charges. In June 2017, Bayram went on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment conditions.

Baku Police Chief Mirgafar Seyidov, who tortured Bayram and Giyas in a police station, was included in list of candidates for targeted sanctions by United States in the framework of Global Magnitsky Act. Amnesty International also highlighted their cases in its campaign for the release of political prisoners.

Afgan Mukhtarli

AZERBAIJAN / Kidnapped May 29, 2017

“You can arrest or kill us, but others will continue the struggle. Our goal is not to overthrow Ilham Aliyev, but to give people hope.”

Afgan Mukhtarli is a well-known investigative journalist and political activist based in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he had been living in exile to avoid persecution in Azerbaijan. Afgan has contributed to RFE/RL Azeri Service, Meydan TV, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Eurasianet.org. Prior to his imprisonment, Afgan was investigating the offshore business of top Azerbaijani officials in Georgia. On May 29, 2017, he was kidnapped in Tbilisi and forcefully taken to Baku where he was put in prison. He faced fabricated charges of smuggling, illegal border crossing, as well as violently resisting a law enforcement official.

According to a recent Freedom Now report, there are significant questions about possible cooperation between Azerbaijani and Georgian authorities in the abduction of Afgan. After his imprisonment, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling upon the Azerbaijan government to immediately and unconditionally release Afgan. The United States State Department urged Georgian authorities to issue an independent and thorough investigation into his abduction. Afgan’s imprisonment was followed by a series of protests organized by Georgian civil society.

Afgan’s lawyers say that he is suffering from diabetes, as well as high blood pressure and that his health is deteriorating due to the inhumane conditions of the pre-trial detention facility. On December 2017 Afgan’s trial resumed and the prosecutor asked the court for an 8-year sentence. On January 12, 2018, Afgan was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. In February, he was briefly released for two days to visit the graves of his niece and nephew. He gave an interview during this time, in which he stated that the Azerbaijani and Georgian governments were both involved in his abduction and imprisonment.

Tale Bagirzade

Tale Bagirzade

AZERBAIJAN / Detained November 16, 2015

Update: In February 2019, Tale Bagirzade began a hunger strike in protest of his reported torture while imprisoned in Gobustan prison, a high-security prison outside of Baku. A month prior, he published a plea asking the international community “do not be indifferent” to “human tragedy in Gobustan Prison.”

Tale Bagirzade is a Shia theologian, head of the Muslim Unity Movement, and well-respected public figure. Tale has been an outspoken advocate of the peaceful Islamic movement and the rights of the religious community. He has also been vocal with his criticism of the ruling elite in Azerbaijan. On November 26, 2015, Tale and 16 fellow religious activists were arrested during a deadly police raid in the Nardaran district. The authorities claimed that the Muslim Unity Movement aims to “overthrow the constitutional order” and characterizes it as a terrorist group. However, it is believed that the raid was part of the government’s campaign to consolidate power and silence dissent by labeling them as extremists.

According to Amnesty International, Tale and fellow activists have been subject to severe torture in detention. On January 25, 2017, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison on politically-motivated charges, including “illegal weapons possession, conspiracy, murder, terrorism and inciting religious hatred.” It is Tale’s third imprisonment; he was arrested and sentenced to 1.5 in 2011 and 2 more years in 2013.

The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom stated that the status of religious freedom in Azerbaijan dramatically deteriorated in 2016. Local human rights defenders have closely followed the case of the imprisoned religious activists and recognized them as prisoners of conscience.

Fuad Ahmadli

Fuad Ahmadli

AZERBAIJAN / Detained August 18, 2016

Fuad Ahmadli is the head of Youth Committee of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Khatai District Branch. Shortly after he helped organize an opposition demonstration, he was arrested on August 18, 2016. He was held incommunicado for ten days, during which his family and lawyer were not informed about his location. He was charged with “abuse of power” and “conducting unauthorized operative-search.”

On June 16, 2017, he received a four-year prison sentence. Fuad and his lawyer maintain that the criminal case against him was retribution for his peaceful activism.

Gozal Bayramli

Gozal Bayramli

AZERBAIJAN / Detained May 25, 2017

UPDATE: On March 17, 2019, Gozal Bayramli was freed by presidential pardon.

Gozal Bayramli is the Deputy Chairperson of Azerbaijani Popular Front Party. She has been one of the leaders of the opposition movement in Azerbaijan for more than a decade. On May 25, 2017, she was detained by Azerbaijani authorities on the Georgia border while returning from Tbilisi where she was receiving medical treatment for serious health problems.  She was then sentenced to pre-trial detention on charges that she smuggled €12,000 ($13,400) in cash. A few weeks before her imprisonment, the Azerbaijan government accused her, along with several activists based in Tbilisi, of attempting to overthrow the government of President Ilham Aliyev.

Gozal’s imprisonment is part of a broader crackdown on the Azerbaijan National Front Party. Currently, three aides to the Chairperson, as well as numerous members of the party are in prison for politically-motivated charges. The US State Department stated that it was troubled by the arrest of Gozal Bayramli. Gozal was kept in a pre-trial detention facility while her case was waiting for the court review. On January 23, 2018 Gozal Bayramli was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison.

Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov

Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov

AZERBAIJAN / Detained May 9, 2017

“We believe in truth, so the prisons, tortures, insults and other things are not enough to turn us to slaves” Giyas Ibrahimov

UPDATE: Bayram and Giyas were released on March 17, 2019, by presidential pardon.

Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov are students and members of NIDA Civic Movement, a pro-democracy youth organization that has been targeted by the government. On May 9, 2017, the two students painted an anti-government message on the statue of Haydar Aliyev, the former President of Azerbaijan and the father of current president Ilham Aliyev. That same day, they posted the photos of the graffiti on social media. The next day, both were kidnapped and taken to the police station where they were brutally tortured. They were asked to publicly beg forgiveness from the statue and to confess to serious drug crimes. After they refused to admit guilt, drugs were planted at their apartments and they were then arrested on fabricated drug charges.

In 2016, both Bayram and Giyas received a 10-year sentence for the drug charges. In December 2017, Giyas Ibrahimov and his father were accused of contempt of court. As a result, Giyas’ imprisonment has been extended three more months while his father, Hasan Ibrahimov, has been sentenced to eighteen months of correctional labor with a 20-percent reduction of his salary.Both of them have received death threats during their imprisonment.

Baku Police Chief Mirgafar Seyidov, who tortured Bayram and Giyas in a police station, was included in list of candidates for targeted sanctions by United States in the framework of Global Magnitsky Act. Amnesty International also highlighted their cases in its campaign for the release of political prisoners. In June 2017, Bayram went on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment conditions.

Ilkin Rustamzade

Ilkin Rustamzade

AZERBAIJAN / Detained May 17, 2013

Update: Ilkin Rustamzade was released by presidential pardon almost three years into his sentence on March 17, 2019, ahead of Noruz—Azerbaijan’s New Year celebration. The presidential pardoning of prisoners is common around this time, but generally does not include political prisoners. Upon his release, Ilkin gave an interview about how he intends to continue his activism and how he thinks the international community can help activists working under duress in Azerbaijan. Read the interview here.

Ilkin Rustamzade is a youth activist and leading member of the Free Youth Organization. In March 2013, Ilkin, a senior university student, used social media to organize a series of widely attended peaceful protests in central Baku to address non-combat deaths of soldiers, as well as poor working conditions of the national army. Ilkin, together with several other youth activists, was imprisoned after the protests on May 17, 2013.  He was charged with organizing mass disorder, hooliganism, and use of power against a state representative. In May 2014, he received an 8 year prison sentence. While in prison, he joined NIDA Civic Movement, a pro-democracy youth organization that has been targeted by the government, to express his support for other young political prisoners.

Ilkin is currently one of the most long-standing political prisoners in the country. He has been subjected to continuous threats and ill-treatment during his imprisonment. The European Court of Human Rights has initiated communication with the Azerbaijan government on Ilkin’s case. Joining NIDA and other civil society groups, the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) is leading the #FreeIlkin campaign to work for his release.

Mehman Huseynov

Mehman Huseynov

Mehman Huseynov is a young anticorruption blogger who has been imprisoned since March 2017. Mehman has documented the deteriorating political freedoms in Azerbaijan through powerful photographs that captured the world’s attention, and received the Norwegian Nobel Institute’s Press Prize.

UPDATE

On March 3, 2019, Mehman was freed after serving the full length of his sentence.

December 26, 2018: Authorities charged imprisoned anticorruption blogger Mehman Huseynov with “resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to [the representative’s] health and life” only two months before his sentence was anticipated to end. Mehman reported to his lawyer that he was pulled aside during a routine inspection where he was to undergo an additional search. When left alone with a prison official, the man fell to the ground and faked being attacked. “Huseynov’s lawyers requested access to the surveillance videos from the area, but officials have said the surveillance cameras don’t have recording memory cards,” reports a statement by Human Rights Watch.

On January 22, 2019, authorities dropped additional charges against imprisoned anticorruption blogger Mehman Huseynov. For over three weeks, Mehman undertook a hunger strike in protest of the unfounded charges. In solidarity, a number of current and former #SetThemFree political prisoners joined the hunger strike including: Khadija Ismayilova, Tofiq Yaqublu, Giyas Ibrahimov, and Ilkin Rustamzade. Zafar Ahmadli, the father of political prisoner Fuad Ahmadli, also joined the hunger strike.

April 12, 2017: Mehman’s defense lawyer requested to present witnesses to the court of appeals who would testify that Mehman had been beaten and tortured in prison. The court failed to appropriately investigate this issue and in December 2017, Mehman’s appeal was dismissed and his two-year sentence was upheld.

March 3, 2016: A Baku court sentenced Azerbaijani human rights activist Mehman Huseynov to two years in prison on “defamation” charges. He is the Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), an Azerbaijani organization promoting freedom of expression. Three days before receiving his sentence, Mehman produced and shared a video about the appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s wife to the office of First Vice President. The video features Mehman asking passersby if they would also appoint their wife to a vice president position if they were a leader of a company.

Nearly two months before his imprisonment, unidentified policemen abducted and tortured Mehman. The next day, January 10, 2017, Nasimi District Police fined Mehman for “disobeying the police.” The previous head of IRFS, Azerbaijani journalist Rasim Aliyev, served as Chairman until his tragic death on August 9, 2015. Unknown attackers murdered the influential journalist during a brutal crackdown on Azerbaijan’s civil society. Mehman’s brother, and IRFS founder Emin Huseynov has also been a target of severe police harassment. The European Court of Human Rights found that the Nasimi District Police were guilty of torturing Emin two years ago, before he fled Azerbaijan due to intense state-sponsored harassment. In October 2015, Emin received asylum in Switzerland, where he now resides.

Mehman has documented the deteriorating political freedoms in Azerbaijan through powerful photographs that captured the world’s attention, and received the Norwegian Nobel Institute’s Press Prize. In 2012, the World Youth Movement for Democracy (WYMD) selected Mehman’s powerful photograph of Azerbaijani police brutality against citizens as a winner in the “Youth in Action: a Snapshot of Democracy” contest. The photojournalist’s brave reporting has made him a frequent target of extreme state-sponsored harassment, including arrests, travel bans, interrogations and assaults.

 

His award winning photograph.

“I live in Azerbaijan where I never saw democracy. The fundamental freedoms of democracy are freedom of expression, freedom of media, freedom of assembly, property rights, etc. These freedoms and rights are restricted in Azerbaijan. Sometimes, you see people’s rights violated, but you cannot speak or write about it. In this photo, the police have covered the mouth and the eyes of the man so that he can neither see reality, nor speak about it. This is how democracy exists in Azerbaijan.” – Mehman Huseynov’s WYMD entry about freedom of expression and police brutality in Azerbaijan.

Click here to join us in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mehman Huseynov by sharing this solidarity tweet!

Leyla Yunus

Leyla Yunus

AZERBAIJAN / Detained July 30, 2014 – December 9, 2015

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UPDATE: Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus were allowed to travel to the Netherlands on April 19, 2016 to receive medical care for their deteriorating health and to be reunited with their daughter. 

Leyla Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was arrested for her involvement in projects aimed at improving people-to-people dialogue between intellectuals and community leaders in Azerbaijan and Armenia, against the background of the unresolved conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. She has been charged with treason and tax evasion. Her institute, founded in 1995, focused on combating politically motivated prosecutions, corruption, violence against women, and unlawful house evictions. She remains in pre-trial detention.

After a year of detention, Leyla’s first preliminary hearing was held on July 15th, 2015 in anticipation of his July 27th, 2015 trial. Although the judge denied her request to sit next to her lawyers or speak in her defense, she was able to briefly to speak with reporters during the break. She confirmed that she has been repeatedly beaten during detention and that she is suffering from multiple chronic diseases for which she cannot get adequate treatment in prison.

On December 9th, 2015 Leyla Yunus has been released on house arrest and five years’ parole.

 

Arif Yunus

Arif Yunus

Yunus

AZERBAIJAN / Detained August 5, 2014 – November 12, 2015

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UPDATE: Arif Yunus and wife Leyla Yunus were allowed to travel to the Netherlands on April 19, 2016 to receive medical care for their deteriorating health and to be reunited with their daughter. 

Arif Yunus is an Azeri scholar and independent activist, and also husband of Leyla Yunus. She is the founding director of the Peace and Democracy Institute and a vocal critic of Azerbaijan’s human rights record, prior to her arrest she had been working on a project documenting political prisoners in the country.

Arif Yunus was arrested due to his work defending the rights of victims of torture and political prisoners, as well as his work towards finding peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He has been charged with treason and fraud.

After a year of detention, Arif’s first preliminary hearing was held on July 15th in anticipation of his July 27th trial. The judge refused his petitions to sit beside his lawyer and for all charges against him to be dropped. Both his lawyer and his wife, Leyla, highlighted his deteriorating health and the possibly cancerous tumor growing in his head that have received no medical attention during his detention.

On November 12, 2015  The Baku Court of Appeals granted Yunus’s release. Before leaving the courthouse, he was required to sign a document that bars him from leaving Baku. The request for Arif Yunus’s release was based on results of a medical examination conducted by German physicians that said his extremely high blood pressure could cause a heart attack.

Tofiq Yaqublu

Tofiq Yaqublu

Yadigar Sadiqov

Yadigar Sadiqov

EURASIA yadigar_sadiqov

AZERBAIJAN / Detained June 2013

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Yadigar Sadiqov is a leading member of the opposition Musavat party in Azerbaijan. He was arrested months prior to the presidential election that was held on October 9, 2013. He was accused of hitting a man with a mobile phone; he denies the allegation and his lawyer has highlighted large gaps in the prosecution case. In January 2014, he was sentenced to six years in prison.

Rauf Mirkadirov

Rauf Mirkadirov

AZERBAIJAN / Detained April 19, 2014 – March 17, 2016

UPDATE: Released on March 17, 2016 after his sentence was commuted to a five-year suspended sentence. 

Rauf Mirkadirov, who had been part of efforts to build “citizen diplomacy” between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two countries still technically at war because of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and dispute, was imprisoned on espionage charges.  When arrested, Mirkadirov was a journalist, based in Ankara, Turkey, working for the Baku-based daily, Zerkalo (Mirror).  His articles and op-eds were often critical of both the Azerbaijani authorities and the Turkish government.  His deportation from Turkey and arrest in Azerbaijan took place a few days after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Baku.

Anar Mammadli

Anar Mammadli

EURASIA Anar_Mammadli 2

AZERBAIJAN / Detained December 16, 2013

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Founder of the Baku-based Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, which promotes democratic institutions and civil and political rights. Anar Mammadli was arrested for repeatedly criticizing the conduct of elections by the authorities in Azerbaijan while observing and monitoring elections held on October 9, 2013. He was sentenced in May 2014 by the Court on Grave Crimes to five and a half years in prison.

Rasul Jafarov

Rasul Jafarov

 AZERBAIJAN / Detained August 2, 2014

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Lawyer, chairman of the Human Rights Council, and prominent human rights defender in Azerbaijan, Rasul Jafarov was arrested for coordinating the “Sing for Democracy” campaign, which used the Eurovision Song Contest as a platform to improve human rights awareness in Azerbaijan. During the Contest, “Sing for Democracy” attracted significant international attention to human rights violations in Azerbaijan. On April 16, 2015, Baku’s Grave Crimes Court convicted Jafarov on a range of charges of tax evasion, abuse of power, illegal business activities, and embezzlement. The court sentenced him to six and a half years in prison.

Khadija Ismayilova

Khadija Ismayilova

EURASIA Khadija Ismailov2

AZERBAIJAN / Detained December 5, 2014 – May 25, 2016

UPDATE: Released on May 25, 2016 on probation after the court reduced her sentence to 3.5 years suspended sentence.

Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist who reported high-level corruption allegations against President Ilham Aliev and his family, has been imprisoned since December 5, 2014.  In addition to human rights violations, she reported on business dealings by the Aliyev family involving construction projects connected to the Eurovision Song Contest, which Baku hosted in 2012.  She has been convicted of criminal libel in a closed trial and charged with embezzlement, tax evasion and other crimes.  Ismayilova is a recipient of the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. On September 1, 2015, Khadija was sentenced to 7 years and 6 months in prison.

Seymur Hazi (Haziyev)

Seymur Hazi (Haziyev)

EURASIA Seymur Hazi

AZERBAIJAN / Detained August 29, 2014

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UPDATE: Awarded the Fritt Ord Foundation and the ZEIT-Stiftung Free Media Prizes for Independent Journalism in Eastern Europe in 2016.  

Seymur Hazi (or Haziyev) an Azerbaijani journalist, a reporter for the newspaper Azadliq, a leading anchor for opposition satellite Azerbaijan Saati (Azerbaijani Hour) TV program, and a senior politician with the Front Party of Azerbaijan.

Arrested on August 29, 2014, he was accused of “aggravated hooliganism.” Authorities said that while waiting for a bus on his way to work, Hazi attacked and beat a Baku resident. His lawyers maintain that he acted in self-defense. In January 2015, he was sentenced to five years in jail. His appeal was rejected on April 15, 2016.

His detainment is said to be politically motivated in response to his criticism of the Azerbaijani government. He had previously been the target of intimidation by the government. He claims that in 2011 he was abducted and tortured by unidentified men that had warned him against further outspoken criticism of the government.

The newspaper that Hazi had regularly written for, Azadliq, was forced to close temporarily in July 2014, shortly before his arrest. The paper failed financially under a heavy burden of fines in response to defamation charges in 2013 and was withheld funds by its government-backed distributor. It seems to have been an orchestrated attempt to silence government critics as Azadliq had been one of the few independent media outlets remaining at the time. Most recently, the Azerbaijani government has tried to shutter the news source by banning it through court action in 2017. Internet restrictions authorized by the Azerbaijani government had allowed it to interfere with access to the site by leveraging Azerbaijan’s internet service providers directly.

Lend your voice and share a solidarity tweet to help #SetThemFree!

Intigam Aliyev

Intigam Aliyev

AZERBAIJAN / Detained August 8, 2014 – March 28, 2016

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UPDATE: Released from custody on March 28, 2016. Awarded “Civil Rights Defender of the Year” Award in April 2016. 

On April 22, 2015 a court in Azerbaijan, sentenced Intigam Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s leading human rights lawyer, to seven years and six months in prison on politically motivated charges of tax evasion, illegal business activities, embezzlement, and abuse of authority. Aliyev is a lawyer and chair of the Legal Education Society, which litigated human rights cases in domestic courts. In his closing statement to the court, Aliyev said: “Arrests can take away our freedom, but not our desire for freedom. Our arrest continues our struggle for freedom.” On July 14, 2015, 95 lawyers from 24 countries released a public letter to President Aliyev urging for the immediate and unconditional release of Intigam and highlighting the deteriorating health of lawyer. On July 21, the Court of Appeals rejected Intigam’s appeal request.