Azerbaijan: Prisoner release welcome, but a tokenistic gesture in the run up to European Games

The European Games take place in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, in June © Naomi Westland/Amnesty International

The release of two prisoners of conscience today is a positive move, but with 20 others behind bars, it is little more than a tokenistic gesture to appease critics in the run up to the European Games in June, said Amnesty International.

Bashir Suleymanli and Orkhan Eyyubzade, both outspoken critics of President Ilham Aliyev and the Azerbaijani authorities, have been released today as part of the presidential pardon announced yesterday.

The inaugural European Games  - involving 6,000 athletes from 50 countries - take place in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, from 12-28 June.

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:

“This is heartening news, but what about other prisoners who are still behind bars in Azerbaijan for no real crime but criticising the regime? The Azeri authorities give with one hand and take with the other. Only two days ago, the Azerbaijani Court imprisoned the brother of an outspoken political opposition leader for six years on trumped up charges.

“Bashir and Orkan’s release is not enough. They were imprisoned purely for political reasons, and their convictions should be immediately quashed. They have not committed any crimes and should not have a criminal record hanging around their necks.”

“If the Azerbaijani regime is really serious about human rights, it will release all the prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally. Arrests of critics of the government on politically motivated charges must stop."

Amnesty International has been campaigning for the release of Bashir Suleymanli and Orkhan Eyyubzade, along with 20 other prisoners of conscience. Their stories are featured in Amnesty's recent report Guilty of Defending Rights: Azerbaijan’s human rights defenders and activists behind bars.

The Azerbaijani authorities announced the release as part of an annual pardon signed by President Aliyev, which this year extends to 101 people.

Bashir Suleymanli, head of the Elections Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS), a prominent election watchdog, was arrested on 17 December 2013, shortly after his organisation issued reports documenting widespread electoral violations during the 2013 presidential elections.

Bashir Suleymanli was charged with ‘illegal enterprise’, tax evasion and ‘abuse of authority with grave consequences or the intent to influence elections’. He was found guilty as charged and sentenced to three years and six months imprisonment.

Orkhan Eyyubzade is a 19-year-old member of the Musavat opposition party and a member of the pro- democracy youth movement NIDA. He was detained on 6 May last year for taking part in a peaceful protest against the criminal conviction of eight NIDA activists, and sentenced to 20 days of administrative detention. On 27 May, the day he was due to be released, the Azerbaijani authorities brought new trumped up charges against him.

On 15 October 2014 the Binagadi District Court in Baku found Orkhan Eyyubzade guilty of attacking and injuring a policemen and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment. While in detention, he reported that he was beaten and otherwise ill-treated, however there has been no effective investigation into these allegations.

Amnesty International is also calling for an effective investigation of Orkhan Eyyubzade’s allegations of beatings, as well as all other recorded allegations of ill-treatment and torture.

 

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