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U.S., UK and several international organizations condemn verdict against Azerbaijani activists of NIDA

The U.S. embassy to Azerbaijan, the U.S. Helsinki Commission , UK Minister for Europe, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House human rights organizations have condemned the arrest of Azerbaijani youth activists of NIDA, given the forthcoming chairmanship of Azerbaijan in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Azerbaijan’s human rights situation remains dire as it gears up to assume the six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 14 May 2014, it is stated by human rights organization Amnesty International.

The statement published on the organization’s website notes that a court in Baku sentenced eight NIDA youth movement activists to between six and eight years in prison on spurious charges of possessing drugs, explosives and intending to cause public disorder.

"This verdict is an affront to human rights and a timely reminder of Azerbaijan’s continued refusal to respect basic freedoms,” Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at Amnesty International said.

According to him through its Constitution and membership of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has declared its commitment to respect and protect fundamental human rights. However, the practices are testimony of its failure to live up to its national and international human rights commitments and obligations.

According to the statement, there are at least 19 prisoners of conscience currently behind bars in Azerbaijan, solely for peacefully expressing their views. These include representatives from the NIDA youth movement, politicians, journalists, civil society activists and bloggers.

"We were always concerned about prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan and calling for their immediate and unconditional release. However, it is still more worrying that the number of individuals deprived of freedom in connection with their attempts to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression has only increased,” Krivosheev said.

Amnesty International reports that the Azerbaijani authorities must begin to respect the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression, including by immediately and unconditionally releasing the individuals they have incarcerated for the peaceful exercise of these rights. And the Council of Europe – its Parliamentary Assembly, its Secretary General and the Committee of Ministers itself – must begin to be more assertive in demanding this.

Human Rights watch international organization notes that ( "Alas, it’s hardly news anymore that activists are handed long prison sentences in Azerbaijan. This has been a mainstay in the government’s two-year effort to silence its critics. But when it happens two days before the Council of Europe’s Secretary General visits Baku, and nine days before the country officially takes over the rotating chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, everyone should sit up and take notice how justice is taking another blow in Azerbaijan.”

According to the statement, imprisoning these activists is a part of a larger crackdown that Azerbaijani authorities have pursued against critical voices in the country in the past two years. In the past year alone, they have arrested or imprisoned dozens of political activists, bloggers, and the like on bogus charges.

HRW reports that when Council of Europe Secretary General is in Baku, he should impress upon the Azerbaijani leadership that business as usual is possible only if Azerbaijan starts respecting the institution’s standards and allows greater freedoms in the country.

The president of Freedom House human rights organization David Kramer declared that (, the decision by an Azerbaijan court to send to prison eight young men who protested corruption and lawlessness exposes the authoritarian character of the government and the corruption of the country’s judicial system.

According to him, democratic countries should hold the government of Azerbaijan accountable for its poor record on human rights, an even more serious problem as Azerbaijan prepares to take the chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

In response to sentencing of eight youth activists associated with NIDA in Azerbaijan and the detention of leading journalists and human rights advocates, U.S. Helsinki Commission calls on the government of Azerbaijan to respect the rule of law and its human rights commitments. The statement is available on the Commission’s website.

"The entirety of the legal proceedings against these young men is troubling not for the lack of coherence, but also because there are credible allegations that the arrest and the subsequent charges are politically motivated and aimed at silencing criticism of the government,” Chairman of the Committee senator Ben Cardin said. He calls on Azerbaijani government to review the cases of the detainees, and ensure that the rule of law and justice are provided.

On its turn, the Co-Chairman of U.S. Helsinki Committee Chris Smith called on the Azerbaijani government to review the cases of the eight activists and to respect the rule of law. He as well expressed his concerns about the arrest of journalist Rauf Mirkadirov on charges of spying for Armenia as well as the detention of human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband.

The U.S. embassy to Azerbaijan as well released a condemning statement and expressed its deep disappointment by the decision to sentence eight youth activists to lengthy prison terms on highly questionable charges.

"We repeatedly encouraged Azerbaijani authorities to ensure a fair trial and respect for due process. While we welcomed Azerbaijani authorities’ willingness to allow us and other Western embassies to monitor the trial, we observed numerous irregularities, including inconsistencies in witness testimonies. We also heard accounts of authorities’ mishandling of evidence and disregard for legal search procedures,” the statement published on the embassy’s website reads.

The embassy again urges the Azerbaijani Government to live up to its international human rights commitments, particularly in light of Azerbaijan’s upcoming chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers.

UK Minister for Europe David Lidington in his statement published on the website of UK Foreign Ministry said that he is deeply concerned by the sentences of imprisonment passed to youth activists.

"We have monitored these cases closely throughout the trial. The Foreign Secretary raised his concerns about the detention of members of the NIDA Youth Movement during his visit to Baku in December 2013,” David Lidington said.

According to him, the UK will continue to raise its concerns about an increasingly worrying trend of apparently politically motivated detentions and prison sentences being issued in Azerbaijan.

Note that the youth activists of NIDA are accused of preparing riots at Fountain Square of Baku on March 10. They are also charged with illegal possession of weapons, drugs and hooliganism. Amnesty International human rights organization recognized all of them as "prisoners of conscience". On May 6, the defendants were sentenced to 6-8 years of imprisonment.



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