Human rights advocate elaborated on the state of human rights in the country on the day of Human Rights; “Sometimes I wonder, if someone is arrested following 24 hours a statement comes”
Ahmad Shahidov, Head of the Azerbaijani Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (AIDHR) was hosted by the agency and answered questions. During the interview he talked about human rights situation in Azerbaijan on the eve of Human Rights Day, recent arrests and the meetings he held in the frame of his official visits to overseas.
-10th of December is marked as Human Rights Day worldwide. I am eager to know your, Human rights advocate’s viewpoints regarding the situation of Human rights in Azerbaijan?
– If I put it briefly, it was during United Nations— General Assembly’s on 10 December 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was enacted. It consists of thirty articles which support each individual’s rights. It’s already 23-24 years that Azerbaijan got its independence. Sadly, we could not make much progress in the field of human rights. We have plenty of challenges in this field. Azerbaijan tries to adhere to the obligations taken before the international conventions joined by the country. Still we experience fully or partly limitation of human rights, freedoms of self-expressions, assembly and other universal rights. This is one of the concerning problems. In the name of Azerbaijani Institute for Democracy and Human Rights a statement has been issued and disseminated in three languages dedicated to this day.
– Which freedoms are fully limited, restricted in the country?
– I would not say fully restricted. There is double standard to some extend. In some European countries freedom of religion is fully or partly restricted while this right, in a sense is ensured in Azerbaijan. The most frequently discussed issue in Azerbaijan is existing gaps in freedom of self-expression. The problems are observed in the freedoms of assembly and conscious. In order to discuss all these issues I have been invited to attend United Nations annual forum on Human Rights which held in Geneva, Switzerland.
– Which issues were tabled during the forum?
– I visited headquarter of the United Nations between 1-3 December. The forum saw number of panel discussions. I attended discussions on limitation of social rights. I talked about the fully or partly restriction of social rights of one million Azerbaijani citizens, violation of their housing rights, refugees, IDPs and the issue of their registration. We raised the issues related to the social problems. Latter on, I had a meeting with representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) over South Caucasus. I touched on issue of Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev who were taken hostage by Armenians in Kalbajar.
They were aware of this fact. They met with hostages for six times and keep following the trial process though they find this trial illegal. It’s clearly contradiction of the Geneva Convention. I put forward an initiation to participate in the trial in the name of our organization and it was met by audience with interests. I presented the book devoted to the Azerbaijani hostages. I informed them that apart from them there are more than one thousand Azerbaijani hostages. They will send inquiries to the Armenian side in this respect. As observer I joined the 21st OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Basel, Switzerland as well. Territorial integrity was the prime issue of the meeting; Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was also discussed. Aftermath, I held a series of meetings at Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs, Parliament of Switzerland, representatives of Swiss NGOs. We can consider the visit fruitful.
– Which else problems were highlighted during the meeting? As a mater of fact, challenges of human rights in Azerbaijan are not only related to IDPs…
– Prime issues of Foreign ministers meeting were territorial integrity, combat against terrorism, separatism etc. The meeting also featured discussions on people’s right to live during the conflicts.
-As you might be aware of arrest of Khadija Ismayilova, investigative journalist which occurred on the eve of Human Rights day. It would be interesting to get your, human rights defender’s stance on this arrest. We did not come across your statement concerning to this issue.
– This year in September I faced unfavorable situation in Warsaw where Khadija Ismayilova participated as well. I emotionally expressed my views on that day. However, I decided not to comment on this issue anymore. She is opposite sex therefore I saw no need to talk about it. The topic ignited again. I have a stance on this issue…
– It’s highly important to know you opinions as human rights advocate …
– In comparison with other arrests, her case is a little bit different. On the other hand, opposite side is serious enough, he is journalist and has sufficient evidences. I mean correspondences on social networks since I am unaware of investigation documents. I reckon that we did not have such precedent in Azerbaijan. She was charged under Article 125 (bringing to suicide) which is not applied in Azerbaijan before. Since this article is newly applied on Khadija Ismayilova’s case it caused heated discussions on whether the case has political motive or not.
As a human rights defender I am cautious on not harming the principle of presumption of innocence. I can not claim whether she is guilty or not, because without official verdict of the court it would be inappropriate to define it. Nevertheless, I would like to note my readiness to defend her rights, I ought to do this as the human rights advocate, I am ready to run campaigns, initiations, to conduct meetings, to speak at the trial with the purpose of defending her rights. I do believe and wish fair trail process on Khadija Ismayilova’s case.
– Working group of human rights advocate was set up, but you do not involve in this group. The group is composed by number of human rights advocates and their representation is not considered one-sided. How do you view the establishment of this group?
– I am aware of establishment this working group. Alexander Guessel , Director of the PACE Political Department mentioned about this. He noted that Secretary General of PACE Torbyorn Yagland gave a ring to Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and expressed his concerns with regard to the recent wave of arrests in Azerbaijan. He proposed to set up working group with the aim of looking into whether these arrests have political motive or not and the president welcomed the proposal. I was also eager to be part of the working group and put forward my candidacy. However, the government objected my participation and therefore I do not have no links with this group.
– In you view, what was the reason of your not participating in this group?
– I do not know the reasons; it might be they did not recognize me, newly establishment of our organization. I think they did not recognize our organization. But still I am unaware of the real reasons. Nevertheless, members of the working group are distinguished once. It would be better to wait for 2-3 month to properly asses their activities. We had amnesty and numbers of people were pardoned.
– That amnesty included two of those people…
–Yes you are right. I also wanted to see more of our arrested colleagues in that list. It seems working group could not do more. We are expected to have another decree on amnesty on December 31.
– At the moment number of human rights defenders are at the prison, bank account of tens of NGOs are frozen. The situation is not encouraging. We did not come across any statements issued by your organization in this regard. You claim that the government did not want your involvement into the working group while it was created. May be these statements would be a good chance for your organization to be recognized. Why Ahmad Shahidov avoids making statement in this respect?
– I would not say that there is not any statement. We have made statements on Faraj Karimov, Musavat party’s representative, on general picture of human rights. Since we are newly established organization we avoid making harsh statements. Sometimes I wonder, if someone is arrested following 24 hours a statement comes. It’s not appropriate. I am not engaged in the politics. It’s quite natural for political parties to make statements from the viewpoint of politics. What statement we can make with respect to Khadija Ismayilova’s? Everyone is equal before law. Should I, human rights advocate start immediately supporting someone’s rights? May be there are some criminal motives since criminal code under the article 125 is highly serious. Trial of recently arrested persons has already started.
– At least you could express your concerns over the arrests and voice your hope on objective trial…
– I think it was possible to replace those arrests with conditional sentences (“house arrest”). We can make a statement following the gathered facts. It’s unprofessional to make a statement following a day of arrest. Being neutral to the ruling power and Khadija Ismayilova’s we can not say which side is right which side not. Let’s wait for the verdict of the court.
-As the Human rights advocate with neutral stance, do you consider those arrested people political prisoners who were recognized by majority of human rights advocates as political prisoners?
– I am already familiar with list of political prisoners. The list contains names who engaged in politics, who have political stances. But I am not sure on indentifying those names as political prisoners … Political prisoners are those people who sentenced to imprisonment because of their political views. It’s also true that there are some vague points, the list contains political activist, journalists and fabricated accusation on possessing drug is traditional and outmoded method. Some accusations are ambiguous; on the contrary some of them have valid evidences. But again I can not judge them.
Since the documents are not accessible by the public you can not say it for sure. Some moments cast shadow on the list. The list has names of Sadval terrorist group’s members who blow up metro in 90s. It may contain innocent names, those who do not have criminal intention only because of their political views. However, the names of terrorist cast shadow on the general picture of list. This list is sent to the prestigious human rights organizations and Azerbaijani government with valid reasons protests against this.
Roya RAFİYEVA, 10th of December 2014