Four months after he was able to leave Azerbaijan and fly to Switzerland, Emin Huseynov’s asylum claim has been successful. Emin’s lawyer Marcel Bosonnet confirmed to media this week that his client had received the decision from Swiss authorities on 19 October.
The Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) has expressed its outrage over the murder of freelance journalist Rasim Aliyev, who acted as Chair of the group after Emin Huseynov was forced into hiding in August 2014.
Aliyev died in hospital after being attacked by six men in broad daylight. Amnesty International have called for a “truly thorough, independent and impartial” investigation into Aliyev’s death, while admitting that, if the Azerbaijan government’s past conduct is anything to go by, this is unlikely to transpire.
Rasim Aliyev (pictured left) was born on August 16, 1984 and died just short of his 31st birthday. He was a graduate of the State Oil Academy. Rasim Aliyev lived with his elderly parents, but was engaged to be married and in the process of planning a wedding. He started working with IRFS in 2007. In addition to his parents and fiancee, Rasim Aliyev is survived by one sister.
IRFS’ full statement follows below.
In the wake of Emin Huseynov’s escape to Switzerland from that country’s embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan’s government has announced that it has deprived him of citizenship.
Emin Huseynov is now in Bern, where he is applying for asylum. His brother, Mehman, who is still in Azerbaijan, told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting that “My brother was effectively driven out of the country. Fabricated criminal charges were brought against him because of his human rights work… I hope they will return my passport and issue me with ID so that we can travel and see my brother, otherwise they will be holding us [Emin’s family] here as hostages,”
* 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.
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
With the country hosting the European Games this June, Azerbaijan is under an unusually large international spotlight. More and more human rights monitors are calling attention to Azerbaijan’s worsening treatment of human rights defenders and journalists. Human Rights Watch’s associate Europe and Central Asia director, Jane Buchanan, has called on Azerbaijan “to release the critics it has thrown behind bars and end its crackdown.”
Buchanan’s comments accompany a new Human Rights Watch video recounting Azerbaijan’s human rights record:
HRW’s post references Emin Huseynov’s plight specifically, as one of “dozens of activists and journalists [ ] compelled to flee Azerbaijan or go into hiding.”
Buchanan said, “The journalists and others behind bars or in exile are fully aware that thousands of athletes, sports fans, journalists, and others will soon arrive in Baku to celebrate a major new international event. They are counting on Olympic leaders and governments to not just come to the Baku party, but to stand up for what is right, by insisting on freedom for those wrongly accused.”
The PEN American Center, the US branch of the worldwide association of writers, has honoured imprisoned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova with the prestiguous PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award next month.
Ismayilova is one of the best-known investigative journalists in Azerbaijan, with a track record in exposing high-level corruption and human rights abuses that have made her a major target for the government there. She has been imprisoned since December 2014, after a campaign of official harrassment that raised awareness of the Azerbaijani government’s repression of journalists worldwide.
Formally in a form of pretrial detention, which has now been extended twice, Ismayilova was initially arrested on spurious allegations of inciting a colleague to commit suicide. She was previously blackmailed with surreptitious recordings of her private life. Khadija Ismayilova’s letters from prison are a powerful testament of a determination to tell the truth, which will not be silenced:
“Why am I here?” is a question that everyone in prison asks themselves, no matter the crime. Corruption is the reason I am in my prison, but the regime’s corruption, not mine. The only way to prove oppressive regimes wrong is to continue exposing corruption, and I have promised more investigations for 2015. Yes, there is a price to pay, but it is worth it! My arrest proves one more time that we must build a new reality where telling the truth will not require courage.
While Khadija Ismayilova was not be able to attend the Pen America awards in person – the award was accepted on her behalf by Neil Gaiman – as the New York Times points out, of the 39 previous winners who were incarcerated at the time they received the Freedom to Write award, 34 are now free.
Rasul Jafarov, an Azerbaijani human rights defender who had compiled data on more than 100 Azerbaijani political prisoners, was himself sentenced to six and a half years in prison on politically motivated charges. The Sport for Rights coalition “resolutely condemns” his sentencing and calls for his “immediate release.”
Azerbaijan is silencing dozens of critics and human rights defenders in an intensifying crackdown, freezing bank accounts and trumping up charges. Jafarov was convicted of tax evasion, illegal business, and abuse of office — the very same charges laid against Emin Huseynov. The Sport for Rights coalition notes Huseynov’s “fabricated charges—an act of revenge by the regime in response to his criticism of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record in the international arena.”
The coalition’s demand for these activists’ and journalists’ release – in addition to sanctions against the Azerbaijan government – is cosigned by several other human rights organisations.