Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

No Let-Up to Repression in Azerbaijan

One arrested, two jailed, one ordered to stay in detention after more than a year without trial.
By Afgan Mukhtarli

As another dissident in Azerbaijan is given a long jail term, another has been taken in and is  being held incommunicado.

On May 6, Faraj Karimov, a well-known social media activist and leading member of the opposition Musavat party, was given a six-and-a half year sentence by a court in the capital Baku.

He was arrested in July 2014 and accused of possessing illegal narcotics. So was his brother Siraj – also a Musavat member – who was given a six-year jail term this March.

Faraj Karimov was the administrator of ISTEFA – “Resign” – the largest Azeri-language page on Facebook which had 300,000 subscribers before it was closed down in July 2013. He then created a page called BASTA, which has 155,000 subscribers, and was also administrator of the Musavat party’s website.

He refused the opportunity to address the court at the end of his trial, saying, “I have been arrested for my struggle against an authoritarian regime. If I spoke at a trial that flouts the law, it would be of great benefit to those who ordered my arrest.”

Defence lawyer Nemat Karimli cited numerous errors in trial procedure. “We demonstrated that the papers drawn up when Faraj Karimov was arrested were fabricated. But our application to get these documents removed from the list of evidence was turned down,” he said.

He added that “as a rule, Azerbaijani courts just rubber-stamp the case brought by the prosecution”.

A drugs charge is as damaging to someone’s reputation in Azerbaijan as it is anywhere else. Other dissidents, human rights defenders and independent journalists caught up in a year-long clampdown have been accused of assault, affray, tax evasion and fraud – in short, anything except the outspoken criticism that so angers the government.

Amnesty International, which has designated both Karimov brothers as prisoners of conscience, said last year that when Faraj was arrested, he was questioned about Facebook, not drugs.

Amnesty also reported that Faraj Karimov’s lawyer did not get to see him for ten days, during which time he was beaten and threats were made against him and his parents.

As Faraj Karimov’s trial concluded, there were mounting concerns about Fuad Ahmedli, a member of the opposition Popular Front party. Ahmedli was last seen near his home on April 29 being bundled away by plainclothes officers.

His father Zafer told the Turan news agency that he found out his son was arrested by the interior ministry’s organised crime department. Officers from the department told him the charge was “hooliganism”, a term that equates to disorderly behavior.

They would not let him see his son, nor did they grant the legally-mandated access to defence lawyer Vugar Mammadov.

“No information at all is being given out about the reason for Fuar Ahmedli’s detention,” Mammadov said. “If he was arrested for an administrative [petty] offence, why is he being held in the central organised crime department? If there’s a court decision, why don’t they make it public?”

Mammad Ibrahim, an adviser to the Popular Front leadership, said the party was extremely worried about what amounted to a state-sponsored abduction.

“We’re hoping international organisations will be able to get full information about Fuad,” he added.

Ulvi Hasanli, a senior member of the NIDA youth movement, said the latest cases were just business a usual. “The groundless arrests and verdicts continue. The political orders to do this remain in force,” he said. “International institutions should be offering a tougher response to the never-ending repression in Azerbaijan.”

Meanwhile, the authorities have held journalist Rauf Mirqadirov for over a year without bringing him to trial.

Earlier this month, a court in Baku approved a four-month extension to a pre-trial custody order first granted after Mirqadirov was detained in Turkey, where he was living, and spirited out of the country to Azerbaijan in April 2014.

The journalist was present at the latest hearing on May 6, and contested the extension on the grounds that the charges against him were entirely without substance

After Mirqadirov’s arrest, the prosecutor’s office alleged that he had spent the previous five years spying for Armenia, with which Azerbaijan has had a hostile relationship ever since the Nagorny Karabakh war of the 1990s. His lawyer Fuad Agayev said the accusations were imaginary, probably manufactured because his client was among those Azerbaijani and Armenian journalists who kept in contact in an attempt to forge mutual understanding and ease the path towards a Karabakh peace deal.

In a related case later last year, human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunusov were accused of treason, again on the basis of their contacts with Armenian counterparts 

Afgan Mukhtarli is an Azerbaijani journalist living abroad.