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Zeid condemns civil society crackdown in Azerbaijan

GENEVA (8 September 2015) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned on Tuesday the ongoing crackdown on civil society and independent voices in Azerbaijan.

“Despite my repeated calls to the highest State authorities, including the President himself, undue pressure, harassment and intimidation against journalists, human rights defenders and activists by State authorities continue to be reported in Azerbaijan,” Zeid said.

“I call for the immediate release of all those who have been deprived of their liberty simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly as well as for defending the rights of others,” he added.

On 1 September 2015, journalist and human rights activist Khadija Ismayilova was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison by the Baku Court on Grave Crimes on charges of embezzlement, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of office. She was subjected to a smear campaign before her arrest on 5 December 2014.

Ms. Ismayilova’s trial allegedly failed to meet international fair trial standards, with limited public access to the hearings, motions filed by the defence routinely rejected and inadequate time for consultation with her lawyers.

According to reports, Ismayilova’s prosecution might have been connected to her work. An internationally recognised investigative journalist, Ismayilova has been reporting on human rights violations and corruption in Azerbaijan for several years.

“Ms. Ismayilova’s sentencing is just the latest example of the crackdown on independent voices in the country. Azerbaijani authorities have already jailed a number of other journalists, human rights defenders and activists, including Leyla and Arif Yunus, Intigam Aliyev, Anar Mammadli and Rasul Jafarov, on different questionable charges,” Zeid said.

The UN Human Rights Office has received worrying reports of the fragile and deteriorating health of several of these prisoners, he added. “I call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to urgently release seriously ill prisoners on humanitarian grounds.”

Zeid also urged the Government to rescind recent legislative amendments concerning the registration and financing of associations, which severely curtail the work of independent civil society organizations by restricting their access to domestic and foreign funding.

ENDS

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