On 19 January 2016, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI) co-organized a roundtable discussion entitled “Justice Behind Bars: The Persecution of Civil Society in Azerbaijan” in Brussels. The event featured a presentation of IPHR’s recent report with the same name, as well as a broader discussion on these issues. The panel of speakers included the three exiled Azerbaijani activists Emin Huseynov, Gulnara Akhundova and Emin Milli, as well as the two legal experts Kirill Koroteev and Ramute Remezaite. The event was moderated by IPHR’s Simon Papuashvili.
IPHR’s report “Justice Behind Bars: The Persecution of Civil Society in Azerbaijan”, which was published in December 2015, highlights the abuse of the criminal justice system during the widening civil society crackdown that has unfolded in Azerbaijan since 2014 and provides a detailed analysis of the criminal cases against seven leading civil society figures.
Media freedom advocate and Director of the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety Emin Huseynov, who is one of those whose cases is documented in the IPHR report, shared his own experience of persecution at the hands of the Azerbaijani authorities. He made a heartfelt plea to EU decision-makers to press for an end to the persecution of civil society in Azerbaijan.
Kirill Koroteev of the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center and Ramute Remezaite of the European Human Rights Advocacy Center, who drafted the IPHR report, spoke about the various violations of the criminal justice system seen during the current civil society crackdown and in the cases documented in the report. These violations include e.g. abuse of pretrial detention, failure to register NGOs, unfounded accusations of illegal entrepreneurship and many others.
During her intervention, International Media Support Program Manager Gulnara Akhundova discussed alternative ways to support civil society in Azerbaijan, such as through offshore mechanisms.
In view of the unprecedented wave of protests currently taking place in the Azerbaijan, Meydan TV Director Emin Milli expressed concerns that the situation in the country is becoming increasingly instable. He appealed to EU decision-makers to push for immediate economic reforms in Azerbaijan and called for loosening up the rigid rules for providing EU support to civil society in Azerbaijan.
The speakers agreed that an EU policy shift with respect to doing business with the Azerbaijani government is of critical importance to enhance protection of the country’s civil society. They also stressed that the current uncertain economic situation in Azerbaijan provides a window of opportunity for using conditionality in multi- and bilateral relations with Azerbaijan.