TO: First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva
Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO
Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
February 11, 2015
Dear Mme Aliyeva,
IFEX, the global network of 95 organisations defending and promoting freedom of expression, is deeply concerned by the news that Emin Huseynov, chairman of IFEX member Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), is being unjustly persecuted for his work as a journalist and human rights advocate. In your capacity as the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and First Lady of Azerbaijan, we urge you to champion the right to freedom of expression and do everything in your power to ensure Emin Huseynov is free to continue his work with IRFS without fear of reprisal.
Emin Huseynov has long been at the forefront of promoting freedom of expression and free media in Azerbaijan. Over the last decade, he has advocated for hundreds of journalists, bloggers and free speech activists under threat in Azerbaijan and across the region. Over the last six months however, Emin has been unable to continue this important work.
In August 2014, in the midst of Azerbaijan's chairmanship of the Council of Europe, police raided IRFS' offices, confiscated computers and documents, and sealed the office. Since then, Emin Huseynov has been in hiding at the Embassy of Switzerland in Baku in order to avoid imminent arrest on fabricated charges.
Emin Huseynov faces charges under three articles of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan: articles 308 (abuse of office), 213 (tax evasion) and 192 (illegal business). We believe the charges brought against Emin are politically motivated, and are a response to his criticism of Azerbaijan's poor human rights record in the international arena. Other international organisations including the OSCE have condemned these charges, and a recent resolution titled “Protection of the safety of journalists and of media freedom in Europe” adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 29 January 2015, singled out the case of IRFS chairman Emin Huseynov among the most disturbing developments in Azerbaijan.
The incidents surrounding Emin Huseynov and IRFS are not happening in isolation. Rather they appear to be part of a disturbing trend in Azerbaijan, where freedom of expression and assembly are being criminalised, and journalists and civil society organisations are being threatened, incarcerated and administered crippling fines.
For example, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was arrested in December 2014 and as of this date remains in pre-trial detention on charges we believe are a response to her work exposing corruption at the highest levels of Azerbaijani society. In September 2014, the office of IREX Azerbaijan was searched, and computers, documents and other electronic media were confiscated halting the operations of the organisation. Further, a criminal case was launched against a group of NGOs including IREX and the Danish organisation International Media Support in relation to their activities in the country.
We appeal to you as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador to support us in this request. You are in a strong position to help secure freedom for Emin Huseynov and other free expression advocates whose rights have been compromised in Azerbaijan. As such we strongly encourage you to make every effort to ensure:
- The charges against Emin Huseynov are dropped and his safe passage from the country on humanitarian grounds guaranteed;
- The criminal case against Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety is dropped;
- The right to freedom of expression and association is fully respected in Azerbaijan, in line with the country’s domestic and international obligations;
- Criminalisation of the exercise of these rights is prohibited in all circumstances;
- The current crackdown against civil society organisations is ended and the enabling environment for NGO activities is restored;
- People are not arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association and do not become victims of unfair charges or trials.
We thank you for your attention, and look forward to your reply.
IFEX is the global network of 95 organisations defending and promoting freedom of expression