İRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to immediately release all political prisoners
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety calls on Azerbaijani government to decriminalize defamation and immediately release human rights defender Ilham Tahmazov
The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the Azerbaijani government for arresting human rights defender Ilham Tahmazov (Ilham Aslanoglu) on defamatory charges and demands his immediate release.
On June 9, 2022, the Yevlakh region court sentenced Ilham Tahmazov to six months of imprisonment finding him guilty under Article 148 (insult) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
The reason for the criminal prosecution was the public statements voiced by the human rights defender during his interview on the AzerFreedom YouTube channel about the mass torture that occurred in 2017 as a part of the infamous Terter Case (named so after Azerbaijan's front-line region of the same name and the city where the events took place). In the framework of the trumped-up Terter Case on alleged spying for Armenia, more than 200 military servicemen and civilians were subjected to severe tortures. Of these 11 people died as the result of being tortured.
For his human rights activities within the framework of investigating the cases of mass tortures in the Terter region of Azerbaijan, Ilham Tahmazov has been subjected to systematic pressure by the authorities over the past years. In 2019, due to his views and beliefs, he was expelled from the Azerbaijani Bar Association on a false complaint. In January 2022, he was convicted on trumped-up charges of slander, also related to his public interviews about tortures in the Terter region of Azerbaijan.
Monitoring of the last two years shows that the Azerbaijani government has begun to use a new tactic of short-term criminal arrests for defamation against journalists and human rights activists, as well as against opposition figures. Having arrested a critic for six months, the authorities begin to apply moral, psychological, and sometimes physical pressure against that critic in custody so that he or she stops his/her activities or takes a more compromising position in relation to the authorities. If pressure fails to break the will of the critic, the authorities initiate a new trumped-up charge of defamation. A good example of this is the case of oppositional figure Ali Aliyev, who since the beginning of this year has been twice convicted under defamatory articles of the Criminal Code for his thoughts expressed during an interview with the YouTube channel Osmanqizi TV. In the last month of his imprisonment, a new defamation lawsuit was filed against Ali Aliyev, the third during the last six months, for his statements about the ruling New Azerbaijan Party in an interview with the YouTube channel Bumerang TV.
"After joining the Council of Europe, the Azerbaijani government has been repeatedly promising to decriminalize defamation, but the numerous facts of persecution of its critics under defamatory articles are increasingly moving the country away from the standards of the Council of Europe," says Emin Huseynov, Executive Director of the IRFS. "The Council of Europe should monitor more closely and promptly respond to the repeated politically motivated arrests of critics and demand that the authorities fully comply with all the values emanating from the European Convention on Human Rights," summarized E. Huseynov.
The IRFS calls on the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović, General Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the situation of human rights defenders Thórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir, PACE General Rapporteur on Freedom of the Media and Safety of Journalists Mogens Jensen, as well as co-rapporteurs of the PACE Monitoring Committee Stefan Schennach and Ian Liddell-Grainger to condemn the Azerbaijani government for criminally prosecuting critical voices under charges of defamation, and to call for their immediate release.
The IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to provide and guarantee a safe environment in the country for the professional activities of journalists and human rights activists, stop the politically motivated persecution of critics, immediately release all prisoners of conscience, and fully restore their violated rights.
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