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Emin Huseynov's freedom an important first step

Emin Huseynov, Chair of IRFS
Emin Huseynov, Chair of IRFS

Onnik Krikorian

Prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender Emin Huseynov has arrived in Switzerland following months of negotiations between the Swiss foreign ministry and the government of Azerbaijan. Huseynov had taken refuge in in the Swiss embassy in his country since August 2014, under threat of immediate arrest on spurious charges filed against him and many of his colleagues during the country's ongoing crackdown on journalists and civil society. Emin Huseynov is chair of IFEX member the Institute for Reporter's Freedom and Safety, which has been largely suppressed by the crackdown.

Huseynov's 12 June flight coincided with the opening of the European Games in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, and followed a dramatic campaign lead by the Sport for Rights coalition, aiming to draw attention to Azerbaijan's deplorable freedom of expression record in the lead-up to and during the Euro Games. Coalition members staged protests outside of Azerbaijani embassies across Europe, and participated in an IFEX twitter campaign which hijacked the official #Baku2015 twitter tag during the opening of the games.

“We are relieved that Emin Huseynov is now safe, but nothing can make up for the past 10 months that he has been unjustly deprived of his liberty,” said Rebecca Vincent, coordinator of Sport for Rights. “We remain deeply concerned for the remaining jailed journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, and call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

Many of Huseynov's colleagues remain behind bars on trumped up charges. Rasul Jafarov, chairman of the Human Rights Club, was recently given six and a half years for charges that included abuse of power, illegal entrepreneurship, and tax evasion. Award-winning journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been imprisoned since December 2014, initially on on charges of incitement to suicide, now with abuse of power, tax evasion and illegal business, amongst others.

Huseynov's family has also recently experienced sustained state harassment, including interrogations,travel bans and confiscation of identity cards.

“While we're pleased to hear that Emin Huseynov has been granted safe passage, this is only the first step for the Azerbaijani government,” said Annie Game, Executive Director of IFEX. “If President Aliyev is serious about rehabilitating Azerbaijan's tattered reputation, he'll protect Emin's family, continue releasing prisoners of conscience, and end his campaign of harassment and imprisonment against defenders of free expression that has unfortunately been so prominent in the last year.”

As of June 2015, Azerbaijan has more journalists and bloggers imprisoned than any other country in Eastern and Western Europe, with at least eight registered in the Committee to Protect Journalists 2014 prisoner census.

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