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Travel ban restricts Azeri journalist from receiving human rights prize

A travel ban on a prominent Azerbaijani photo and video journalist – imposed just before he planned to travel to receive a prestigious human rights prize – must be lifted immediately, the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) said on 17 June 2013.

The ban has prevented Mehman Huseynov from leaving the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, to receive the Gerd Bucerius Free Press of Eastern Europe Award from the Fritt Ord Foundation and the ZEIT Foundation, in Oslo, Norway. Mehman attempted to travel on the morning of 17 June, but Azerbaijani authorities turned him back, citing the travel ban.

Following a four-hour detention at the Baku airport, Mehman was taken to Sabail District Police department and was only released after he had provided "recognizance not to leave."

"The travel ban on Mehman Huseynov is completely arbitrary and violates his right to freedom of movement, and severely contradicts both international standards and domestic law", said Emin Huseynov, IRFS CEO and Chair.

Article 12 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights states that everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his or her own.

Azerbaijan is a state party to the ICCPR and is bound by its provisions.

IRFS notes that for more than a year, no investigative measure has been taken in the trumped-up criminal case filed against the journalist, even though – according to article 218 of Azerbaijan's Criminal Procedure Code – the investigation into his case had to be completed during 12 months (i.e. by 13 June 2013).

The fact that the investigation has not been completed within the specified time frame shows that the criminal case against Mehman Huseynov is fabricated and is related to his journalistic activity.

IRFS regards the ban as a suppression of freedom of expression and an intention to keep the journalist under control by restricting his activity.

"While civil society all over the world recognizes Mehman's human rights work, [the] Azerbaijani government is punishing him with an unlawful travel ban', Emin Huseynov said.

"Mehman's absence at the Gerd Bucerius Free Press of Eastern Europe Award ceremony is an example of the ongoing severe violations of the fundamental freedoms of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis', Emin Huseynov added.

IRFS recalls that the right to freedom of expression and information is guaranteed and protected by the provisions of international instruments, and treaties signed and ratified by the Government of Azerbaijan – notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 19, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 19, and the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10.

IRFS calls on the government and law enforcement agencies to lift the unjustified travel ban immediately and allow Mehman Huseynov to travel to Oslo to receive his prize.

Furthermore, IRFS protests the charges of hooliganism that were brought against Mehman Huseynov. To that end, IRFS urges the authorities to drop all the charges against him and take all necessary measures in accordance with the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to ensure an environment in which human rights defenders can continue their legitimate human rights work in a safe manner.

IRFS further calls on the international community – in particular the Council of Europe and the OSCE – to take a stronger stance and exert greater pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities to fulfill their international human rights obligations.

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