Azerbaijan: Youth activist jailed after Facebook protest call freed

Amnesty International today welcomed the release of 20-year-old youth activist Jabbar Savalan, but reiterated its call for the Azerbaijani authorities to release 16 more prisoners of conscience jailed in April following a series of peaceful protests.

Jabbar Savalan was released last night to celebrate with his family after he received a presidential pardon.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:

'Obviously the release of a prisoner of conscience is always a cause for celebration. We are delighted for Jabbar and his family. It is important now that his conviction is quashed and his reputation restored.'

His case was part of Amnesty International’s Letter Writing Marathon, earlier this month, during which hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and over 80 other countries came together to demand that peoples’ rights are respected. Over one million appeals were made prior to Jabbar Savalan’s release. In the UK this campaign was under the banner of 'Write for Rights' and Ian Hislop championed Jabbar's case. Amnesty International UK also launched innovative adverts showing Facebook users in Azerbaijan the number of people around the world who were supporting Amnesty's campaign.

Jabbar Savalan told Amnesty International:

'It feels good to be with my friends again. I feel good now that I can spend time with them and my family'

'Amnesty International is a symbol of human rights and freedom, not just in Azerbaijan, but everywhere in the world. I am grateful for all the hard work done by your organisation and other organisations which fight for freedom in Azerbaijan.'

Jabbar Savalan was arrested and accused of drugs possession on 5 February, a day after he posted on Facebook calling for Egypt-inspired protests against the government. His conviction, despite a blood test showing that he had not used drugs, was largely based on a confession extracted under duress while he was denied access to a lawyer.

In March and April, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Azerbaijan to protest against government corruption and to call for fair elections and respect for human rights. Amnesty International’s recent report The Spring that Never Blossomed: Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan  (pdf) documents how hundreds of protestors were arrested and 16 of the alleged organisers were sentenced to long prison terms in unfair trials.

John Dalhuisen added:

'We warmly welcome Jabbar's release as a first step - but there are still 16 more prisoners of conscience dating from the spring protests languishing in jail. Their release is imperative for the cause of justice in Azerbaijan.'

To call on the President of Azerbaijani to overturn Jabbar's conviction and release the other 16 other prisoners of conscience visit amnesty.org.uk/jabbar /p>

Jabbar Savalan’s arrest has only strengthened his resolve to fight for the basic rights denied him by the Azerbaijani regime. He said:

'We will not be scared off by imprisonment or punishment. They may arrest us, but they can’t break us. Freedom of speech is our right, as it is the right of everyone. We will continue our struggle.'

In May 2012 the international spotlight will fall on Azerbaijan as it hosts the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. Azerbaijani activists are using this opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the authorities’ human rights abuses, supported by Amnesty International. 

  • Call on the Azerbaijani authorities to overturn Jabbar's conviction /li>
  • Take action for other individuals in our Write for Rights campaign /li>

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