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Escape from Baku

* Leading Azerbaijani press freedom campaigner travelled to Bern last night after being sheltered at the Swiss Embassy in Baku since August last year
* Courage has been working to provide support for Huseynov for over six months and will continue to support his application for asylum in Switzerland
* European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that Azerbaijan is guilty of serious infringments of Emin Husenyov’s basic rights, including the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment

While audiences around the world were glued to the opening of the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, attended by European national leaders, a secret Swiss Air Force flight made its way from Baku to Bern, Switzerland. Inside was “Azerbaijan’s Julian Assange,” Emin Huseynov, who has spent the last year holed up in the Swiss Embassy in Baku after a government crackdown against journalists and activists. Courage, the international organisation dedicated to the protection of truth-tellers, has supported Huseynov’s case for over six months and aided in the successful procurement of a humanitarian travel visa application, which allowed him to leave his embassy refuge and fly out of the country late last night. He will now apply for asylum in Switzerland.

Courage runs Huseynov’s legal fund and will be supporting him in his asylum application. The organisation calls on the Swiss government to receive Huseynov’s application favourably and grant him asylum.

This is the second dramatic asylum flight on a case Courage has been involved in. Courage Trustee Julian Assange and Acting Director Sarah Harrison successfully obtained asylum for Edward Snowden in 2013, after ensuring his safe passage out of Hong Kong to Russia. Their assistance on the Huseynov case establishes Courage’s competence and expertise in assisting truth-tellers in getting asylum in high-risk political situations.

 

Belp airfield in Bern late last night

Belp airfield in Bern late last night

Courage supports and commends the diligent and longstanding efforts of Swiss officials and negotiators in ensuring Huseynov a safe exit from Azerbaijan. Courage urges the Swiss government to remain firm in its commitment to protect Huseynov from persecution in his home country, and to extend its support to other persecuted Azerbaijanis.

Emin Huseynov is chairman of the country’s leading press freedom organisation, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), and the founder of award-winning online video channel Objektiv TV. He has long been at the forefront of promoting freedom of expression and free media in his home country and has accordingly been a target of reprisal from Azerbaijan’s repressive government. In May this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Azerbaijan’s authorities were responsible for several violations of Emin Huseynov’s basic human rights, among them violations of the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment and the duty to investigate it properly.

Huseynov was forced into hiding in August 2014, amidst serious repression against journalists and human rights activists. Facing imminent arrest on fabricated charges, Emin tried to leave the country for medical help in Turkey but was turned away at the border. IRFS’ headquarters were raided shortly thereafter and Huseynov sought protection at the Swiss Embassy, which is where he remained until late last night, with the building surrounded by police.

With the European Games in Baku now underway, the international community had in recent days intensified its calls on Azerbaijan to change its policy of repression.

Huseynov left his embassy refuge with a senior Swiss official late last night, and boarded a Dassault Falcon 900EX registered to the Swiss Air Force. The plane arrived in Bern aiport at 2.30AM CEST, after a brief stopover in Zurich. Huseynov was in good spirits after disembarking, and grateful for the help he has received.

Sarah Harrison, Acting Director of Courage, said:

“Emin was stuck in the Swiss embassy in Baku for almost a year, suffering from the very crackdown he has made it his life work to document. Just last month, the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that Azerbaijan is responsible for severe violations of Emin’s basic rights, including the infliction of inhuman or degrading treatment.

“As Azerbaijan goes on a PR offensive, this is a perfect time for the Swiss government to recognise the obvious political repression Emin has been subjected to, the fabricated nature of the charges against him and the urgency of securing his continued protection. Having been granted safe passage to Switzerland, Emin deserves now to be granted asylum, so that his work can go on.”

Courage trustee Julian Assange said:

“Azerbaijan’s government has done everything it can to silence Emin Huseynov, up to and including a beating in 2008 which led to him being hospitalised for a time, as the European Court of Human Rights has recently reminded us. But we live in an age where exile and repression can no longer silence an effective voice. In the internet age, driving reporters from their homelands has the opposite effect, so even when Emin was driven into hiding, his body of work continued to speak. His arrival in Switzerland is a big step. It is incumbent on the rest of us now to support the call for Emin’s political asylum in Switzerland.”

Gulnara Akhundova, from International Media Support, said:

“It’s important to recognise why so many NGOs are standing up in support of Emin – it’s because we’ve worked with him over the years so we know exactly how important his contribution has been. Emin is one of several brave people the world has depended on for information about human rights and press freedom in Azerbaijan, information that Azerbaijan’s government has been trying very hard to suppress. Making a commitment to the protection of Emin’s rights now would be an important signal to Azerbaijan’s government that the world is not deceived by the glitz of international sporting competitions.”

Courage hosts the defence fund for Emin Huseynov and will provide regular updates on his case on a new support website at eminhuseynov.com. Courage ensured that Huseynov had legal representation from an esteemed Swiss human rights lawyer Marcel Bosonnet, and worked to coordinate an international coalition of human rights and press freedom organisations, including International Media Support and Reports Without Borders, in the effort to secure his safety. Courage has also restored the IRFS and Objective TV websites, which were taken down in August 2014, so the archive of Emin’s work remains available online. They can be found at irfs.org and objektiv.tv respectively.

Donations to the Emin Huseynov defence fund can be made at: https://eminhuseynov.com/donate