Sentencing of free expression advocate in Azerbaijan yet another severe setback for media freedom, OSCE Representative says
VIENNA, 16 April 2015 – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović today condemned the sentencing of Rasul Jafarov, a free expression and free media advocate and human rights defender in Azerbaijan, to six and a half years in a penal colony.
“Jafarov’s sentencing is nothing short of an act of injustice and it adds to the growing number of journalists and free expression advocates serving time in Azerbaijani prisons for their work,” Mijatović said. “This systematic and wide-scale persecution of independent voices in Azerbaijan is a clear violation of the fundamental and basic human right of freedom of expression.”
On 16 April, the Baku Court on Grave Crimes found Jafarov guilty on charges of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, abuse of power and forgery committed by a civil servant and sentenced him to six and a half years in a penal colony. Jafarov denies all the allegations.
Mijatović noted various reports indicating that both the investigation and the judicial process involving Jafarov were flawed because of serious violations. Reportedly, all prosecution witnesses during the court hearing testified in favour of Jafarov.
The Representative also noted that there are more than 10 journalists, bloggers and social media activists in prison today in Azerbaijan, one of the largest numbers incarcerated by any of the OSCE’s 57 participating States.
The sentence handed down to Jafarov follows a number of recent arrests and lengthy prison sentences handed down to journalists and free speech advocates in Azerbaijan. They include:
- Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Azadliq, on charges of inciting a person to commit suicide, illegal business dealings and abuse of power;
- Seymur Hazi, a columnist for the newspaper Azadliq, on a charge of hooliganism;
- Omar Mamedov and Abdul Abilov, bloggers, on charges of illegal storage and sale of drugs;
- Parviz Hashimli, a journalist, on charges of smuggling and illegal storage and sale of firearms;
- Nijat Aliyev, editor-in-chief of the azadxeber.org news website, on various charges, including drug possession and inciting hatred;
- Rashad Ramazanov, an independent blogger, on charges of illegal storage and sale of drugs.
Further, Emin Huseynov, Chair of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, was forced into hiding while also facing charges of tax evasion, illegal business dealings and abuse of power.
The Representative reiterated her offer to assist Azerbaijan in much-needed improvements to media freedom.
“I am confident a visit to Baku in the near future would help to address the issues of concern and lead to a solution. Unfortunately, none of my past and numerous requests for meetings with the authorities have been met,” Mijatović said. “Nevertheless, I will always continue to seek a constructive dialogue with Azerbaijan on mutually respectful terms.”
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media observes media developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. She provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and promotes full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments. Learn more at www.osce.org/fom, Twitter: @OSCE_RFoM and on www.facebook.com/osce.rfom.