ARTICLE 19 joined members of the Sport for Rights coalition to resolutely condemn yesterday’s sentencing of Rasul Jafarov, a prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender, to 6.5 years in prison on politically motivated charges. The coalition calls for his immediate release.
“This is just the latest example of the brutal crackdown on civil society by the host government of the forthcoming European Games,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of Article 19. “This ridiculous sentence is a punishment for Jafarov’s human rights activism. The authoritarian regime in Baku are scared of the attention Jafarov would bring during the high profile sport events they are proudly hosting – the European Games in June this year and the Formula One Grand Prix in 2016”.
The coalition calls for the EU and its Member States to impose targeted sanctions – for instance visa bans – against those members of the regime who systematically abuse fundamental human rights of citizens of Azerbaijan. At the same time, given the unprecedented human rights crisis in Azerbaijan, the coalition calls for the European Olympic Committee to establish a working group to examine specific cases of right abuses that violates the spirit and letter of the Olympic Charter and the atmosphere of the first European Games.
On 16 April 2015, Rasul Jafarov was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes. He is also prohibited from holding any office for 3 years. He was convicted under Articles 192 (illegal business), 213 (tax evasion) and 308 (abuse of power) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. During the trial, all the prosecution witnesses testified in his favor, and the prosecution failed to prove his guilt. After the verdict, Jafarov reiterated that the charges against him are politically motivated and fabricated.
With his colleagues and allies, Rasul Jafarov has advocated for the dozens of journalists, activists and human rights defenders who are behind bars on illegitimate grounds. As a result of relentless repression enacted by the Azerbaijani government, key human rights activists and journalists have been jailed, exiled, or forced into hiding.