July 8, 2015

For Immediate Release
Contact: Maran Turner
+1 (202) 223-3733
[email protected]

Washington, DC: Today, 16 U.S. Senators have written to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressing their concern about the diminishing space for civil society and the harassment of activists in Azerbaijan. The initiative, led by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), highlights the detention of six prisoners of conscience who are facing long prison sentences in response to their peaceful activism: Anar Mammadli, Leyla and Arif Yunus, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, and Khadija Ismayilova. Signatories to the letter also include Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jean Shaheen (D-NH), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

In the letter, these 16 Senators note that “numerous human rights organizations have continuously raised concerns that there appears to be a systematic crackdown on human rights and independent civil society, including freedom of press, in Azerbaijan.” In seeking the immediate release of the imprisoned activists, the senators emphasize that such an act “will remove an important obstacle to strengthened US – Azerbaijan relations.”

Increasingly, authorities in Azerbaijan have targeted journalists, political opposition leaders, human rights defenders, and lawyers; imprisoning more than 100 individuals under spurious and clearly politically motivated charges. The crackdown has included closing down civil society organizations and independent media, such as the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which had its offices closed by the government in December 2014. Civil society in the country has been devastated. Amid this repression, the government has used events such as the 2015 European Olympic Games to grandstand its achievements and try and whitewash its image, as documented in a recent report by Freedom Now and the Human Rights House Foundation. “Azerbaijan’s tactic of orchestrating ostentatious events to gain international favor does not hide the fact that the country holds more prisoners of conscience than both Belarus and Russia combined,” said Freedom Now’s Executive Director Maran Turner.

Freedom Now welcomes this important initiative by these U.S. Senators and echoes their call for accountability and respect for the rule of law and human rights in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, and the imprisonment of individuals for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association is a flagrant violation of these laws. We join the Senators in calling for the immediate release of Mr. Mammadli, Mr. and Mrs. Yunus, Mr. Aliyev, Mr. Jafarov, Ms. Ismayilova, and all other prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan.