Christoph Strässer, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement on 23 April on the sentencing of Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev in Azerbaijan:
The disproportionately harsh sentences handed down to Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev have shocked me greatly. I know both of them to be extremely committed and reliable representatives of Azerbaijani civil society. Unfortunately, these judgements are only the most recent attempt on the part of the Azerbaijani Government to silence systematically those voices that advocate more democracy and greater rule of law in Azerbaijan.
Rasul Jafarov has campaigned fearlessly for domestic policy reforms to be initiated at long last against the backdrop of cultural or sports events such as the upcoming European Games in Baku. Intigam Aliyev was one of the few remaining lawyers in Azerbaijan prepared to represent victims of arbitrary behaviour on the part of authorities and threatened representatives of civil society.
The Azerbaijani Government must cease its crackdown on civil society with immediate effect. As a first step, Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev should, at the very least, be granted access to fair appeal proceedings as their trials were marred by serious procedural irregularities from the point of view of all independent observers.
I hope that international attention during the upcoming European Games in Baku will also focus on the difficult human rights situation in Azerbaijan. All of those involved – politicians, sports associations and the media – should constantly be aware of the fact that this sports event is taking place in a heavily repressive political environment.
Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev were arrested at the beginning of August 2014 together with other prominent human rights activists on charges of having infringed the country’s legislation on NGOs. Rasul Jafarov was sentenced on 16 April to six and a half years in prison for tax evasion, illegal business activities and embezzlement, while Intigam Aliyev was given a jail sentence of seven and half years for the same charges on 22 April.
Rasul Jafarov, founder and chair of the NGO Human Rights Club, led the Sing for Democracy campaign prior to the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku in 2012, and had planned similar campaigns (Sport for Rights) for the European Games in Baku in June 2015 in order to put the poor human rights situation in Azerbaijan into the international spotlight.
Intigam Aliyev, head of the NGO Legal Education Society and a human rights lawyer, prepared hundreds of claims brought before the European Court of Human Rights by representatives of Azerbaijani civil society seeking to defend themselves against their country’s restrictive NGO legislation.