Families protest conviction of youth involved in July 2018 protest
On 10th September 2019 the Meydan TV station reported on the visit by Ms. Sunna Aevarsdottir, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Rapporteur in Azerbaijan. During her visit, which was related to the cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Ms. Aevarsdottir met political prisoners, including Taleh Bagirzade, the leader of a group called the Movement for Muslim Unity, and his deputy Abbas Huseynov, who were sentenced to 20 years in prison; investigative journalist Afghan Mukhtarli, who was kidnapped in Georgia in 2017 and forcibly taken to Azerbaijan where he was detained in custody; and another political prisoner Said Dadashbeyli. Ms. Aevarsdottir also met with Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of the ReAL Party and former prisoner, government critics, civil society activists, journalists, lawyers and NGO representatives, and members of the local diplomatic community.
After a three day visit with numerous meetings, the official appreciated the attitude of the Azerbaijani authorities as a "constructive" one.
In April 2019, family members of protesters who were arrested and detained in July 2018 took to the streets to protest the arrests and detentions. The family members who converged in front of the local executive office claimed that the detainees had undergone torture and persecution from the authorities. However, police officers pushed them out of the venue stating that the protest was out of order, and even confiscating portraits of their detained children.
Later, in May 2019, Jam News reported that the relatives of the arrested youth went to Baku to hold a protest in front of the presidential administration building. They demanded punishment of the officials involved in torturing the youth while in detention. The police broke up the rally and detained several participants, including four journalists. After several hours, three of them were released. On 10th July 2019, authorities pressed criminal charges against 60 of the detainees and several of them were sentenced to between five and eight years in prison on charges of organising a riot and resisting the police.
In July 2018, the youth were arrested after more than 200 people converged to protest the arrest of Yunis Safarov, a resident of Ganja city who was accused of attempting to assassinate the head of the city, Elmar Veliyev. The protest resulted in chaos as violent clashes between the police and protesters erupted, leading to the death of two police officers and the mass arrest of 60 protestors.
On 29th May 2019, the OC-Media publication wrote about the Azerbaijani journalist Sevinj Vagifgizi, who was sued for ‘filming election fraud’. According to OC-Media, a woman is suing the journalist for filming her while she appears to commit election fraud during last year’s presidential election. According to Vagifgizi, people tried to prevent her from filming and accused her of disrupting the election process after she noticed carousel voting — a practice used for election forgery where voters vote multiple times.
The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said in its final report on the election that ‘international observers reported widespread disregard for mandatory procedures, lack of transparency and numerous serious irregularities.
In a separate incident, on 7th August 2019, a ruling of the Azerbaijani Supreme Court upheld reportedly baseless charges of tax evasion against journalist Khadija Ismayilova. The two-year-long legal battle followed claims by the Ministry of Taxes that Ismayilova avoided a sum of 45,455 manat ( USD 26,659.82) in taxes between 2007-2009, when she was the head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE / RL) Baku bureau. According to Ismayilova, the court decision was illegal as neither she nor the radio station have to pay taxes because RFE / RL is not a commercial entity, it does not generate income and is therefore exempt from income tax. Ismayilova said she would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
In positive developments, on 29th August 2019 Seymur Hazi, an Azerbaijani journalist who worked for the opposition publication Azadliq (Liberty) was released from prison. He was also a television anchor and is a member of the opposition Popular Front Party. Hazi was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to five years imprisonment for hooliganism in early 2015 in a case which he considered to be politically motivated. Several international organisations, including Amnesty International, described Hazi as a prisoner of conscience.
In December 2018 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hazi's detention was illegal and ordered the Azerbaijani government to pay him 13,000 euros as compensation.