Azerbaijan’s arrest of a leading human rights defender and government critic, Rasul Jafarov, reflects the government’s concerted efforts to silence its critics, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately secure Jafarov’s release from pretrial custody and drop all politically motivated charges against him. They should also end their ongoing harassment against independent organizations.
“Rasul Jafarov is one of the most outspoken critics of politically motivated prosecution in Azerbaijan and of its ever-deteriorating rights record,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By arresting Jafarov, the authorities are sending an unambiguous message to activists to stop their human rights advocacy.”
The Grave Crimes Investigation Unit of the General Prosecutor’s Office arrested Jafarov on August 2, 2014. He is the founder and chair of Human Rights Club, an independent human rights group. Together with several partner organizations, Jafarov had been compiling a comprehensive list of victims of politically motivated arrests in Azerbaijan and pressing for their release. He planned to submit the list to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, which in June had appointed a special rapporteur on politically motivated prosecutions in Azerbaijan. Human Rights Club had spearheaded several critical campaigns against politically motivated prosecutions in Azerbaijan, including the “Sing for Democracy” campaign in the lead up to the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2012.
On July 30, 2014, Azerbaijani authorities arrested Leyla Yunus (above), another human rights defender who was working on the list with Jafarov, on multiple charges, including treason.
Jafarov’s arrest takes place amid a comprehensive crackdown on independent organizations and political activists. In the past two years, Azerbaijani authorities have brought or threatened unfounded criminal charges against dozens of political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, most of whom are behind bars. The crackdown continued even as, on May 14, Azerbaijan took over the rotating chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Europe’s foremost human rights body.
“The government fears human rights work that exposes abuses, and its response is to abuse the law and push organizations to its margins,” Denber said. “Groups that are outspoken and challenge government policies, or work on controversial issues, are now extremely vulnerable to criminal prosecution.”