International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) together with the Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI) co-organized on 19 January 2016 the expert discussion Justice Behind Bars: The Persecution of Civil Society in Azerbaijan that featured the presentation of the new report with the same title, published by IPHR in December 2015.

The report portrays the abuse of the criminal justice system in Azerbaijan in the unprecedented crackdown of its civil society since 2014, when dozens of human rights defenders, journalists and other critical voices have been imprisoned and key human rights organizations forced to suspend their activities. A detailed analysis of the criminal cases against seven leading civil society figures: Anar Mammadli; Rasul Jafarov; Intigam Aliev; Leyla and Arif Yunus; Emin Huseynov; and Khadija Ismayilova is provided in the report. Three exiled Azerbaijani activists Emin Huseynov, Gulnara Akhundova and Emin Milli were part of the panel, along with two legal experts Kirill Koroteev and Ramute Remezaite, who contributed to the report. Simon Papuashvili from IPHR moderated the discussion.

Media freedom advocate and director of the Institute for Reporters Freedom Emin Huseynov presented the details of his own case that is also presented in the report. He had a travel ban since August 2014 after ungrounded accusations of conducting illegal entrepreneurial activities and evading taxes. Emin has recently challenged his country at the European Court of Human Rights for being stripped of his Azerbaijani nationality. At the panel, Emin Huseynov called on the EU’s decision-makers to demand the Azerbaijani authorities to end the persecution of country’s civil society.

Legal experts, Kirill Koroteev of Moscow-based Human Rights Center Memorial and Ramute Remezaite of European Human Rights Advocacy Center from London, accounted for the concrete violations of the criminal justice system in the presented cases, such as the abuse of pre-trial detention, failure to register NGOs, unfounded accusations of illegal entrepreneurship and many others.

International Media Support Program Manager Gulnara Akhundova and Meydan TV Director Emin Milli presented their views on the current situation in Azerbaijan and how it could be improved through alternative support to civil society from the EU side.

Noting the unprecedented wave of protests currently taking place in the country, Emin Milli expressed concerns that Azerbaijan is moving towards destabilization. He appealed to EU decision-makers to push for immediate economic reforms in the country and change the rigid rules for providing European Commission support to civil society in Azerbaijan.

The speakers agreed that the EU policy shift in doing business with the Azerbaijani government is crucial for ensuring the protection of the civil society, and that the current instability of the national economy provides a good opportunity for using conditionality in the EU relations with Azerbaijan.

IPHR report: Justice behind bars: The persecution of civil society in Azerbaijan