UK designers and artists demand immediate release of imprisoned Azerbaijani activist

Internationally-acclaimed artists and designers were among the dozens of men and women who called for the immediate release of wrongly imprisoned Azerbaijani activist Jabbar Savalan at a prestigious event in central London this weekend.

British artist Sue Webster, Arun Nayar and drummer from Keane rock band Richard Hughes were just some of the people who supported Amnesty International’s call for the immediate release of Jabbar Savalan at an exclusive AmnesTEA which was hosted by designer Patrick Cox and human rights organisation Amnesty International.  At the AmnesTEA 46 men and women added their name to a giant postcard which will be delivered to the Azerbaijani embassy in London, demanding the release of 20-year-old history student Jabbar Savalan.

Amnesty International considers Jabbar Savalan to be a prisoner of conscience, targeted in response to his peaceful anti-government activism, including comments he posted on Facebook.  He was sentenced on 4 May 2011 to two and a half years in prison on drugs charges. Amnesty believes the charges are fabricated and that the real reason for his conviction was to punish him for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. On 4 February 2011, Jabbar had posted on Facebook calls for protests against the government. The following day he was arrested on his way home from a meeting of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party.  After the trial, Jabbar’s lawyer, Anar Gasimov, was threatened by a police officer.

 Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

 “As we see far too regularly in Azerbaijan, when someone dares to speak out against the government they’re punished. This is exactly what’s happened to Jabbar Savalan.  He dared to freely express his opinion – an opinion which is critical of the government – and now he’s serving time in prison.

 “This is a clear violation of his human rights and Jabbar must be immediately and unconditionally released.    No one should be imprisoned or persecuted for peacefully expressing their beliefs.  This is why we’re delighted that so many celebrated people in the UK have joined the call to demand Jabbar’s freedom.”

 Notes to the editor

1.       Jabbar Savalan was arrested on the evening of 5 February 2011 in his hometown of Sumgayit. He was seized and placed in a police vehicle without any explanation or being informed of his rights. He was 19 years old at the time. He was interrogated for two days without access to a lawyer. When he eventually met with his lawyer on 7 February, Jabbar Savalan said that police had slapped and threatened him until he signed a confession.

Police claim to have found 0.74g of marijuana in Jabbar Savalan’s outer jacket pocket. Jabbar Savalan says this was planted on him by the police. Subsequent blood tests showed no traces of drug use, and Jabbar Savalan’s family, friends and classmates told Amnesty International he had no history of drug use. 

Amnesty International has documented similar cases where police have supposedly found drugs in the possession of prominent critics of the Azerbaijan government, including journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who was released from prison earlier this year. Amnesty International is deeply concerned by the Azerbaijani authorities’ systematic violation of individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly, by the reported ill-treatment of individuals by officials while in custody, and by numerous violations of individuals’ right to a fair trial.

2.       Art Cakes and Cookies were designed by artists including Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, Sam Taylor-Wood, Marc Quinn and Sue Webster and Tim Noble and made by Patrick Cox’s Cookies and Cakes, especially in support of Amnesty International’s work. 

3.       AMNESTEA is a tea party held by men and women across the UK to raise awareness and funds for Amnesty International. Such events have been held in villages, towns and cities across the UK since 2009.

4.       The Art Cakes and Cookies are on sale at Cox’s Cookies and Cakes. The cost for each is £4, of which £1 will go to Amnesty International.

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