To: President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan
Release pro-democracy youth activists in Azerbaijan
Immediately release the imprisoned youth activists from the NIDA civic movement.
Shahin Novruzlu, Rashadat Akundov, Mammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Zaur Gurbanli, Rashad Hasanov, Uzeyir Mammadli and Ilkin Rustamzade were arrested on criminal charges of possessing explosives and intent of public disorder. Human rights organizations believe these charges have been fabricated. The actual reason for their arrest was their criticism of the Azerbaijani authorities and their online activism, calling for peaceful demonstrations.
Shahin Novruzlu, who was only 17 at the time of his arrest, has lost his front teeth as a result of torture in detention. Mammad Azizov and Bakhtiyar Guliyev have complained of torture too.
From 14 May 2014, Azerbaijan is chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. This organization is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights. I am deeply concerned that there are civil society activists in Azerbaijan tortured and imprisoned solely for expressing their views and organizing peaceful protests.
Azerbaijan must live up to the high expectations of the chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The NIDA activists must be immediately released.
Why is this important?
Shahin Novruzlu and fellow youth activists from the pro-democracy movement NIDA campaigned for democracy and against human rights abuses and widespread corruption in Azerbaijan. In February 2013 they created a Facebook event calling for a peaceful protest against injustice in the country.
Shortly afterwards, Shahin and seven other NIDA activists were arrested. Some of them were tortured. As a result, Shahin, who was 17 years old at the time, lost four of his front teeth. His friend Mammad lost hearing in one ear.
Shahin and the rest of the activists have been arrested on false charges of illegal firearms possession and plotting mass disorder. The final court hearing on their case took place on 6 May. The activists were sentenced to prison terms of between 6 to 8 years.
Meanwhile, on 14 May, Azerbaijan assumed Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers. This organization is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights across Europe. Azerbaijan will be providing leadership in this organization during the next six months. In the meantime in Azerbaijan itself, arbitrary arrest, torture and unfair trials are a reality. Those who express criticism and organize peaceful protests go to prison.