Azerbaijan prisoner of conscience release can’t disguise freedom of speech crackdown

Azerbaijan prisoner of conscience release can’t disguise freedom of speech crackdown
(Brussels, 26 June 2012) Last Friday’s release of nine activists in Azerbaijan who had been jailed since last spring for holding peaceful protests against the government should not distract international attention from the continuing crackdown on free expression in the country, Amnesty International has warned.
While we welcome the long overdue release of these nine protesters, they should never have been behind bars in the first place,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. 
Their release preceded today’s vote on a report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan by the Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs & Human Rights in Strasbourg. The report, prepared by Christopher Strässer, a German MP who was denied entry to the country, lists some 100 alleged political prisoners who should be released immediately or given a fair trial. The report was adopted by a narrow majority. 
We greatly welcome the adoption of Strässer’s report and urge the Azerbaijani authorities to cooperate with the Parliamentary Assembly in the resolving this longstanding issue”, said Beger.
The nine activists whom Amnesty International recognises as prisoners of conscience are Arif Hajili,Tural Abbasli, Rufat Hajibaili, Ahad Mammadli, Mahammad Majidli, Zulfugar Eyvazov, Sahib Karimov, Ulvi Guliyev and Babek Hasanov.
In an act presumably intended to stop his campaigning activity, Tural Abbasli, the leader of the youth wing of the opposition Musavat Party, has been called up for military service in July. The day before President Ilham Aliyev ordered the release of the nine, Hilal Mamedov, the editor of a minority language newspaper, was arrested on spurious drugs charges. The arrest followed Mamedov’s posting on YouTube of an Azerbaijani rap battle which became a viral hit and was subsequently adapted by Russian opposition campaigners to attack President Putin. Mamedov’s arrest is just the latest in a spate of charges against journalists, human rights defenders and political activists.
Amnesty International has pressed the Azerbaijani authorities to drop or overturn trumped-up charges against the journalists Anar Bayramli and Ramin Bayramov, human rights defenders Mehman Huseynov, Ogtay Gulaliyev, Vidadi İsgandarov and Taleh Khasmammadov, and the political activist Shahin Hasanli.
For more information please contact:
Peter Clarke 
Media & Communications Officer
European Institutions Office
Amnesty International
Tel: +32 (0) 2 548 2773