Target: President Ilham Aliyev
Goal: Free eight youth activists being held in jail for their roles in a peaceful protest
A peaceful pro-democracy protest in March 2013 took a turn when police violently broke it up. In the days following, eight youth activists were arrested for their roles as organizers of the protest, although most were taken into custody on trumped-up or falsified charges. They have been prisoners of conscience for months and have allegedly been tortured and otherwise maltreated. Now new charges could keep them in prison for over a decade. Sign the petition and demand that Azerbaijan respect its citizens’ right to peacefully protest.
The cases against the eight young men are all built on questionable evidence. The families of Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Shahin Novruzlu, and Mahammad Azizov all allege that suspicious items (such as Molotov cocktails and illegal drugs) found in searches of their homes were planted there by the police conducting the searches. Guliyev’s family claim that “the police showed neither identification papers nor a search warrant,” Amnesty International reports, and the family was confined to one room while the police searched the house, leaving ample opportunity for officers to plant evidence. An initial search of Azizov’s room turned up no contraband material, but police returned later in the day and found drugs. Azizov’s family believes that the first “search” was really a set-up wherein the officers planted the drugs to “find” later. Other activists arrested include Rashad Hasanov, Uzeyir Mammadli, Rashadat Akhundov, and Zaur Gurbanli, each charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and Ilkin Rustamzade, who is accused of “hooliganism” for uploading a Harlem Shake video to YouTube in connection with the protests.
Following their arrests, Azizov, Guliyev and Novruzlu “were forced to appear on state television reading pre-prepared confessions,” says Amnesty International. None of the men were allowed access to their own legal representation. Azizov claimed that police threatened to prosecute his family if he did not confess and beat him when he refused to testify against Rashad Hasanov. Novruzlu, who was still a minor at the time of his arrest, was interrogated without a legal guardian present. Meanwhile, Amnesty reports, “[t]he only evidence presented against Rashadat Akhundov, Zaur Gurbanli and Uzeyir Mammadli is their membership of NIDA [the opposition youth organization]’s board.”
Such flimsy evidence, questionable arrest and interrogation procedures, and serious allegations of ill-treatment must be acknowledged and investigated. Furthermore, Azerbaijan must recognize the activists’ right to peacefully protest–and the government must signal this recognition by releasing all eight young men, immediately and unconditionally.
Dear President Aliyev,
I am shocked and incredibly disappointed at the fact that eight young men–Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Mahammad Azizov, Shahin Novruzlu, Rashad Hasanov, Rashadat Akhundov, Zaur Gurbanli, Uzeyir Mammadli, and Ilkin Rustamzade –remain in prison after months of detainment on trumped-up or allegedly falsified charges. I am also disgusted that allegations of torture, forced false confessions, and illegal interrogation practices continue to go uninvestigated and unaddressed. I demand that these eight prisoners of conscience be released immediately and unconditionally, and that a full investigation be launched into each and every allegation of wrongdoing on the part of the police and the prosecutors.
The cases against the activists have been flawed from the start. The only evidence against Rashadat Akhundov, Zaur Gurbanli and Uzeyir Mammadli is their membership of the youth organization NIDA. Meanwhile, Ilkin Rustamzade is charged with “hooliganism” for allegedly uploading a Harlem Shake video to YouTube, an allegation he vehemently denies, while the families of Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Shahin Novruzlu, and Mahammad Azizov claim that the “evidence” used to arrest them–the presence of gasoline and/or illegal drugs in their homes–was planted by the police officers conducting the searches. The search at Guliyev’s home was not conducted in the presence of the home’s residents and was conducted without a warrant. Azizov claims he was forced to confess after authorities threatened to prosecute his family and that he was beaten for refusing to implicate Rashad Hasanov. Novruzlu, who was still a minor at the time of his arrest, was compelled to confess without a legal guardian present. None of the men were allowed access to “lawyers of their choosing,” Amnesty International reports, and three of them–Azizov, Guliyev and Novruzlu–“were forced to appear on state television reading pre-prepared confessions.”
This entire procedure has been a travesty, built upon flimsy initial charges and even flimsier evidence. Now all eight activists are facing twelve years in prison for “planning to organize acts of public disorder and using Molotov cocktails,” according to Amnesty. Azerbaijan should be dropping, not augmenting, its charges against these activists, each of whom was simply exercising his human right to peacefully protest. I demand that Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Mahammad Azizov, Shahin Novruzlu, Rashad Hasanov, Rashadat Akhundov, Zaur Gurbanli, Uzeyir Mammadli, and Ilkin Rustamzade be released immediately and unconditionally, and that a full investigation be launched into their treatment at the hands of police and prosecutors.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Khortan via Wikimedia Commons