Emin Huseynov was stopped at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport on 5 August 2014. He was prevented from travelling to Istanbul, Turkey, where he was due to receive medical treatment for a broken arm. No explanation was provided for the travel ban. A lawsuit has been filed with the Baku Administrative-Economic Court #1 with regard to the travel ban, but the court did not grant the lawsuit, upholding the State Border Service’s decision.
On 5 August, police searched Emin’s home, where his elderly mother also lives. On 8 August, the IRFS offices were illegally searched and all organisational documents and equipment were seized.
Fearing government repression, Emin sought refuge in the Swiss Embassy in Azerbaijan on 18 August 2014. The Embassy was surrounded by plainclothed police waiting for him, so he wore a disguise and spoke to officers in broken English to throw them off. According to Foreign Policy, someone from the Swiss Embassy quickly opened a door and let him in before authorities could identify and detain him. Since then, Huseynov had been living in the small Swiss Embassy in Baku, before being able to travel to Bern in June 2015 seeking political asylum.
Asylum is a human right affirmed by Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says a person may receive asylum if they can show they have been persecuted for their beliefs and activities. Human Rights Watch’s Giorgi Gogia told Foreign Policy, “I know that the Swiss government has been negotiating at the highest level possible with Azerbaijan. And I know the Azerbaijan government has been against letting Emin leave.”
Until recently, Huseynov has been in effect a prisoner in his own country. He is in poor health as a result of a spinal injury caused by police brutality during a demonstration in 2003. Huseynov was declared to have a second-degree disability because of his cerebral trauma, and he has regularly traveled abroad for medical treatment. (There are three degrees of disability in Azerbaijan, with the first degree being the most serious.) He also suffers from high blood pressure.
On 12 February 2015, it became known that Huseynov was charged with illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emin was sentenced in absentia to pretrial detention by the Nasimi district court on 19 August 2014. He faced a sentence of up to 12 years if he left the embassy.
The Azerbaijani tax authorities have ruled that IRFS must pay arrears of 148,000 AZN (approximately 130.000 EUR). Additionally, the Serious Crimes Investigation Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office has opened a criminal case against IRFS and a number of other local and international organizations (including globally recognized non-profit organizations, such as Oxfam). Approximately ten IRFS employees have been questioned, primarily about Emin’s professional and personal activities. IRFS has appealed to the court against the tax inspection decision and presented evidence proving that it is not obliged to pay these taxes. The court proceedings on this matter are currently ongoing. Meanwhile, IRFS filed a petition requesting the court to order that the calculation of late payment interests for the illegally imposed tax debt is stopped, but the court denied the petition. The daily late payment interest rate for the 94,000 AZN in taxes that they allege we have to pay is 0.1%. Thus far, a late payment interest amounting roughly to 20,000 AZN has accrued.
The Delegation of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the OSCE falsely claimed in its press release of 27 November 2014 that Emin Huseynov had been “repeatedly” summoned for questioning since 7 July 2014. The Delegation alleges that he evaded these summons, and as a consequence, “law enforcement agencies were authorized to bring Mr. Emin Huseynov in by force.” However, authorities have presented no evidence for the alleged 7 July summons. Moreover, Huseynov travelled abroad following this date; if there had been an official summons order, he would have been detained at the airport either upon leaving or returning. Notably, on 8 August 2014, during the police search of the IRFS office, IRFS representative Gunay Ismayilova told the officials to wait until Emin Huseynov was present, but police responded that his presence was not required and they didn’t enquire as to his whereabouts.
IRFS appealed to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the search and seizure of its office was unlawful. The court has not granted IRFS’s appeal. IRFS appealed to the district court regarding the authorities’ illegal sealing of its office doors. The court denied IRFS’ complaint and subsequent appeal. IRFS is currently taking the case to the European Court. No official documentation related to this matter has been sent to the home address at which Huseynov is registered. However, his colleagues received unofficial information that he is on the official wanted list.
The charges filed against Huseynov and IRFS are entirely fabricated, amidst a wider crackdown on human rights defenders throughout Azerbaijan. As a non-commercial entity, IRFS did not engage in entrepreneurial activity. All grants received from donor organizations were registered with the Ministry of Justice in accordance with Azerbaijani law. There is no evidence for the trumped-up charge of ‘abuse of official powers.’ The tax evasion charge is similarly baseless. The Ministry of Taxes has declared that IRFS owes 144,000 AZN in tax and related penalties. But according to the Constitutional Court’s decision of 6 August 2002, under Articles 49.3 and 49.6 of the Tax Code of the Azerbaijani Republic, liability determined by the Tax Code or Administrative Offences Code can only be brought for the any action (or inaction) connected with a violation of tax legislation. In the current case, liability has been determined twice, in contravention of this ruling. Furthermore, IRFS has always paid all necessary taxes and social payments on time and as required by Azerbaijani law.
Though IRFS appealed to local courts regarding the suspension of Emin’s and IRFS’ bank accounts on 9 July 2014, IRFS’s appeal was denied and has taken the case to the European Court in conjunction with other human rights defenders and human rights organisations.