Case History: Rasul Jafarov
On 17 March 2016, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, issued a presidential pardon for 148 prisoners, among them human rights defender Rasul Jafarov.
Rasul Jafarov was chosen as a Finalist for the 2015 Front Line Defenders Award because of his work as Head of the Human Rights Club and Coordinator of the Art for Democracy campaign, which has launched several campaigns against politically-motivated imprisonment, including the Sing for Democracy campaign which took place in the run up to the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. During this campaign, singers from democratic countries were encouraged to voice their concern at human rights violations in Azerbaijan through their music.
On 17 March 2016, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, issued a presidential pardon for 148 prisoners, among them human rights defenders Anar Mamadli, Rasul Jafarov and Hilal Mamadov. The same morning, the Baku Court of Appeals converted the six year prison sentence of journalist Rauf Mirkadyrov to a five year suspended sentence, thus effectively releasing him from custody.
Anar Mammadli is chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS), an organisation that has been carrying out independent election monitoring in Azerbaijan since 2001. On 26 May 2014 he had been found guiltyof conducting illegal business, abuse of office and tax evasion. On 26 August 2015, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan upheld the sentence of five and a half years in prison against him.
Rasul Jafarov is the Head of the Human Rights Club, an organisation established in December 2010 to protect human rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan. He organised the 'Art for Democracy' and 'Sing for Democracy' campaigns in the context of the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku in 2012 to draw international attention to the government’s crackdown on civil society. On 16 February 2016, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan dismissed in the final instance the appeal submitted by human rights defender Mr Rasul Jafarov against the ruling on his conviction for illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of authority, forgery and embezzlement.
Hilal Mamedov is a human rights defender and a consultant with the Institute for Democracy and Peace and editor in chief of Tolishi Sado (Talysh Voice), the only newspaper in the Talysh minority language. Hilal Mamedov was sentenced to five years imprisonment on 27 September 2013 on charges of selling drugs, high treason including espionage for Iran, and incitement to national, racial, social and religious hatred and hostility. He has repeatedly denied the charges, and international observers, including Front Line Defenders, remarked that the trial was marred by many violations of fair trial standards.
Front Line Defenders welcomes the releases and calls on the Azeri authorities to release human rights defenders Khadija Ismayilova and Intigam Aliyev who remain in prison in retaliation for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work.
On 16 February 2016, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan dismissed in the final instance the appeal submitted by human rights defender Mr *Rasul Jafarov *against the ruling on his conviction for illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of authority, forgery and embezzlement.
On 16 February 2016, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan confirmed the lower courts' decisions on the conviction of Rasul Jafarov for involvement in illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of authority, forgery and embezzlement. His prison term of 6 years and 3 months was confirmed. As all domestic remedies to appeal the case have now been exhausted, Rasul Jafarov and his counsel are now planning to raise their case before the European Court of Human Rights.
On 16 April 2015, Rasul Jafarov was convicted of illegal entrepreneurship (Article 192 of the Criminal Code), abuse of authority (Article 308), forgery (Article 313) and embezzlement (Article 179.3.2) by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes. In addition to his imprisonment on trumped-up charges, Judge Elday Ismailov ordered the human rights defender to pay 350 Manat (approx. 310 Euros) for court expenses, and barred him from holding any office for three years following his eventual release. The court's rationale for Rasul Jafarov's conviction focused upon the human rights defender's failure to register grants made to him as head of the Human Rights Club, and his alleged misuse of money provided in said grants. These accusations were denied by the human rights defender.
On 31 July, 2015, the Baku Court of Appeals ruled to reduce the sentence of human rights defender Mr Rasul Jafarov by three months.
During the hearing, Rasul Jafarov's lawyers submitted into evidence a document confirming the payment of his alleged tax debt, a condition stipulated by the court. Furthermore, his lawyers submitted a request for the court to overturn the one year prison sentence handed by the court of first instance. Rasul Jafarov stated that the tax payment which he made was not an admission of guilt but was made to demonstrate his willingness to engage in a dialogue with the authorities.
On 16 April 2015, Rasul Jafarov was sentenced to six and a half years in prison by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes. Jafarov has been held in detention since his arrest on 2 August 2014 on charges of illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office. On 12 December 2014, additional charges were brought against him for alleged embezzlement causing damage to third parties and forgery. However, his lawyers argue that these charges were unfounded, especially as the alleged victims have denied any wrongdoing on the part of Rasul Jafarov.
On 16 April 2015, human rights defender Rasul Jafarov was sentenced to six and a half years in prison by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes. In addition to his imprisonment on trumped-up charges, Judge Elday Ismailov ordered Mr. Jafarov to pay 350 Manat (approx. 310 Euros) for court expenses, and barred the human rights defender from holding any office for three years following his eventual release.
Jafarov has been held in detention since his arrest on 2 August 2014 on charges of illegal entrepreneurship (Article 192 of the Criminal Code), tax evasion (Article 213) and abuse of office (Article 308). On 12 December 2014, after the extension of his time in detention by three months on 23 October 2014, additional charges were brought against him under Articles 179.3.2 (embezzlement allegedly causing damage to third parties) and 313 (forgery). The court's rationale for Jafarov's sentencing focused upon the human rights defender's failure to register grants made to him as head of the Human Rights Club, and his alleged misuse of money provided in said grants. These accusations were denied by Jafarov. At the time the grants were made to Jafarov, there was registration of grants received by physical persons was not required. The defence also produced grantees' testimonies as to the appropriate use of grant money by Rasul Jafarov.
At the time of his arrest, Jafarov was planning a campaign called “Sports for Human Rights”, which had hoped to use the European Games, which will take place in Baku in June 2015, as a platform for the promotion of the protection of human rights within Azerbaijan.
On Wednesday, 1 April 2015, Commissioner Muižnieks issued two public written contributions sent to the Council of Europe concerning the cases of human rights defenders Rasul Jafarov and Anar Mammadli.
The Commissioner stated:
The situation of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan is of great concern to the Commissioner. Reprisals, including judicial harassment, against critical voices in general, and those denouncing human rights violations in the country in particular, is a widespread phenomenon in Azerbaijan, to which the Commissioner has repeatedly attempted to bring the attention of the authorities in his reports and interventions.
Click here to read the full text of the Commissioner's intervention on the case of Rasul Jafarov.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends
I would like to bring to your attention to the fact that the charges brought against me are completely unlawful and groundless. One might ask why? Because,
1. I was registered as an individual entrepreneur with the tax authorities on 25 August 2008 and obtained a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). From that time up until now, I fully paid all relevant taxes and social insurance contributions at the appropriate time and in accordance with the terms of the funds paid to me for my services under the projects in which I was involved. It can be easily verified by sending an inquiry to tax agencies.
2. The Human Rights Club was founded in December 2010, and at the founding meeting I was elected the chairman of the organisation. The Human Rights Club has repeatedly applied to the Ministry of Justice for registration, but due to unjustified and unlawful denial of state registration, appeals were made to all relevant courts in Azerbaijan, and at present this case is pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
The process of seeking registration and filing appeals continued from 2011 till 2013; since the legislation during this period did not prohibit activity by unregistered NGOs, we, as the Human Rights Club, implemented a variety of projects between 2011 and 2013. Each of these projects was carried out under grant agreements signed with the donor organisations which were voluntarily presented to the Prosecutor General’s Office. Also, at the time of signing these agreements, the Ministry of Justice was informed of this by letter. Moreover, the funds under each grant were transferred not in a secret or non-transparent manner, but by transfer to the bank accounts in an open and accessible way to ensure visibility for law enforcement and other relevant agencies, with the purpose of each transfer being indicated as “grant”. Since the Human Rights Club (HRC) was not officially registered, as the chairman of the HRC the transfers were made to my bank accounts. In this case, what kind of illegal entrepreneurship or abuse of office or tax evasion can one talk about?
You may wonder then why I was arrested.
Let’s look at the projects examined by the investigators and covered by the indictment:
1. A human rights campaign related to the Eurovision Song Contest– Sing for Democracy (subsequently renamed Art for Democracy Campaign) that uses different types of art to promote and protect human rights, increase voter turnout on the eve of elections and so on. As well as being in the spotlight of the local and international community, all of these projects were targeted in libelous and insulting articles in the pro-government media which also included the ruling party’s official newspaper “Yeni Azerbaijan”.
2. The Azerbaijani government argues everywhere and at the highest level that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. However I and my colleagues do not argue, but our case proves that there are political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
3. During the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe held in June 2014, i.e. shortly before my arrest, a round table was held on the gravity of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. I was the person who was directly involved in determination of everything from the technical aspects to the content of the roundtable (together with Intigam Aliyev, Emin Huseynov and Rashid Hajili who are currently being persecuted). I was also involved in organising the flash-mob held by our young friends on the day of Ilham Aliyev’s speech. And finally, in the past 2-3 years everyone was asking half-joking, half-serious, when I was going to be arrested. It happened, and now I'm looking forward to your support! Thank you everyone
Baku Pre-Trial Detention Center (Kurdakhani settlement)
14 August 2014
On the morning of 29 July 2014, border guards at Beyuk Kiasik station did not allow Rasul Jafarov to leave the country to visit neighbouring Georgia on the basis of a travel ban issued on 25 July. Between 29 July and 2 August 2014, the human rights defender was summoned to interrogations every day.
Furthermore, before the travel ban was issued against him, Rasul Jafarov's bank accounts were frozen on 6 July 2014 by the Public Prosecutor. On 16 July 2014, Rasul Jafarov appealed this decision to Sabail Court, requesting the Public Prosecutor to present the court decision on the restriction of his bank accounts.
According to the General Prosecutor's office's statement issued on 4 August 2014, investigative authorities were informed about Human Rights Club's “dubious financial operations”. Allegedly, Rasul Jafarov received foreign funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the USA and did not register those grants with the Ministry of Justice. These charges, and Rasul Jafarov's arrest, are believed to be directly connected to restrictive amendments to the Law on Grants, the Law on Non-governmental Organisations, and the Code of Administrative Offences, which were signed into law in March 2013. According to this legislation, only NGOs registered by authorities of Azerbaijan may receive foreign funding and are required to register their grants in Ministry of Justice. Many independent human rights groups in Azerbaijan have refused to register under the terms of the new amendments.
In December 2010, Rasul Jafarov attempted to register Human Rights Club, submitted all the required documents to the Ministry of Justice, yet registration was refused at least three times. Rasul Jafarov appealed those refusals but each appeal was also dismissed by the courts. The refusal to register the Human Rights Club is currently being heard in the European Court of Human Rights, and Human Rights Club remains unregistered in Azerbaijan.
Rasul Jafarov's lawyer will appeal the three-month pre-trial detention of the human rights defender, arguing that he was cooperating with investigative authorities before his arrest and attended all the interrogations as required. Front Line Defenders believes that the pre-trial detention of Rasul Jafarov and the charges he faces are directly linked to his peaceful and legitimate work to promote and protect human rights in Azerbaijan. Front Line Defenders is concerned about Rasul Jafarov's physical and psychological integrity in detention as he suffers from pancreatitis, which requires regular medical treatment.
On 30 July 2014, Ms Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was arrested before being interrogated for approximately six hours in the Serious Crimes Investigation Department of the General Prosecutor's Office.
On 29 July 2014, Leyla Yunus, who was awarded the Theodor Haecher Prize in 2013, published an open letter addressed to the President of Azerbaijan Mr Ilham Aliyev, entitled “What are you afraid of, Mr President?”. Later that day, an unidentified car and two men in plain clothes followed her through the city of Baku.
At 11:45am on 30 July 2014, Leyla Yunus was arrested by three unidentified men in plain clothes outside her home, while she was leaving for attending a conference in the Institute of Freedom and Security of Reporters in Baku. Reportedly, they were officers from the Serious Crimes Investigation Department of the General Prosecutor's Office. In the evening of that day, Nasiminskiy District Court in Baku ruled to hold Leyla Yunus in pre-trial detention for three months. She was charged under the Criminal Code with treason (Art. 274), fraud (Art. 178.3.2), illegal enterprise (Art. 192.2.2), tax evasion (Art. 213), and falsifying official documents (Art. 320). She was soon transferred to a pre-trial detention facility in Kurdakhany, approximately 30 kms outside Baku. Leyla Yunus suffers from diabetes, and has dietary and medical requirements.
That morning, about six men in civilian clothes had already gone to Leyla Yunus' residence. Her husband, Arif Yunus, refused to open the door until he could summon his lawyer, and by the time his lawyer arrived, the men were gone. After his wife was arrested, Arif Yunus went to the General Prosecutor’s Office with his lawyer, at about 1pm, when he was arrested and charged with treason and fraud. However the Court later ruled to release him with travel restrictions in light of health concerns. Arif Yunus' current situation has been described as a de facto house arrest. Front Line Defenders issued an Urgent Appeal on 30 April 2014 on the travel ban imposed on Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus. Since then, their passports have been confiscated.
Leyla Yunus and her husband were interrogated in separate rooms. They are accused of spying for the Armenian secret services, of espionage and using foreign grant money to recruit Azerbaijani citizens to participate in diplomacy efforts regarding the unresolved conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh. Reportedly, both human rights defenders remained silent throughout their six-hour interrogation and their lawyers were not permitted to visit them during the interrogation.
In a separate incident, on 25 July 2014, a travel ban was issued against human rights defender Rasul Jafarov, the Coordinator of Art for Democracy, a campaign that employs all forms of artistic expression to promote democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan. He presented a report on human rights violations in Azerbaijan to the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg in June 2014. On the morning of 29 July 2014, border guards at Beyuk Kiasik station did not permit Rasul Jafarov to leave the country. Moreover, the Public Prosecutor restricted Rasul Jafarov's access to his bank accounts, and the human rights defender has been unable to use his bank cards since 6 July 2014. On 16 July 2014, Rasul Jafarov appealed this decision to Sabail Court, requesting the Public Prosecutor to present the court decision on the restriction of his bank accounts. The case has not yet been considered. Rasul Jafarov has not been summoned as a witness or charged with any crime. On 30 July 2014, the human rights defender filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Azerbaijan.