Azerbaijan: Jail sentence for brother of opposition politician 'another nail in the coffin of freedom of expression'
The sentencing today of the brother of an outspoken Azerbaijani opposition activist on trumped-up drugs charges is yet another nail in the coffin of freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International has warned.
Siraj Kerimli was sentenced to six years in jail for drug trafficking by a Baku court this afternoon. He was arrested on 17 July last year, when police claimed to have found drugs in his pocket. His brother Faraj Karimli – deputy chair of Musavat, one of the biggest opposition parties in Azerbaijan - was detained six days later on similar charges. The arrests came after Faraj had posted updates on Facebook that criticised the government.
Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:
“This is another nail in the coffin of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. The charges against Siraj Karimli are clearly a response to his brother’s political activities and criticism of the government. This sentence not only means an innocent man is going to prison, but it is intended as a warning to other activists and their families.”
“The crackdown on opposition activists and people who have organised online groups discussing government policies is not new in Azerbaijan. But increased harassment and arrests of activists’ family members appear to be part of a new and chilling trend that further restricts the already very limited space for freedom of expression in the country.”
Siraj and Faraj Kerimli are prisoners of conscience. Both were held incommunicado for some time in pre-trial detention and denied access to the lawyer of their choice. During interrogation they were questioned about Faraj’s political activities and Facebook posts, rather than drugs. Both reported being beaten and tortured, allegations which have not been investigated.
There are at least 22 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Amnesty is calling for them all to be immediately and unconditionally released.