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Azerbaijan: Human rights defender Mr Rasul Jafarov in pre-trial detention on charges of economic crimes
On 2 August 2014, human rights defender Mr Rasul Jafarov was interrogated by the Serious Crimes Investigation Department of the General Prosecutor's Office and was subsequently charged under the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan with illegal enterprise (Article 192), tax evasion (Article 213), and abuse of official power (article 308). The Nasimi District Court in Baku has ordered Rasul Jafarov to serve three months of pre-trial detention.
Rasul Jafarov is Coordinator of the Art for Democracy campaign and the head of Human Rights Club, which launched several critical campaigns against politically-motivated imprisonment, including the “Sing for Democracy” campaign (later re-named Art for Democracy) devoted to the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2012. In June 2014, Rasul Jafarov presented a report on human rights violations in Azerbaijan to the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg. Together with other independent human rights groups in Azerbaijan, Rasul Jafarov had been compiling a list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and advocating for their release.
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.