GENEVA (2 June 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, today criticised the “relentless prosecution and repression of prominent rights activists in Azerbaijan” and called for their immediate release ahead of the inaugural European Games in Baku which begin on 12 June.

“As preparations were in full swing for the Baku Games, the Azerbaijani authorities stepped up their efforts to harass, jail, and surveil human rights defenders, as well as ban them from travel and freeze their assets,” the independent expert said.

“Such unjustifiable criminalization has been usually justified with trumped-up or politically-motivated charges of state treason, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office,” Mr. Forst said. “As a result, most Azerbaijani defenders have had to endure prolonged pre-trial detention, imprisonment or exile.”

The UN expert drew special attention to the cases of Intigam Aliyev and Khadija Ismail for documenting cases of political prisoners; Anar Mammadli, Bashir Suleymanli and Elnur Mammadov for monitoring the presidential elections in October 2013; Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif, for criticising the government; and Rasul Jafarov for organising the “Sport for Rights” initiative during the Baku Games to expose corruption and rights abuses in the country.

“I deeply regret the continued efforts to stifle fundamental freedoms of expression and association, and to shrink the democratic space even further in the country,” Mr.  Forst said. “I urge the Government to ensure that defenders who promote and protect human rights can do so in an environment that empowers rather than prosecutes them.”

The human rights expert noted that the first European Olympic Games represented “an opportunity for the countries of Europe to come together and celebrate the Olympic spirit of freedom and inclusiveness.”

“As the host of the Games, it is only natural for the Government of Azerbaijan to show commitment to those ideals by releasing defenders deprived of liberty for their human rights aspirations in the country,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Azerbaijani activists must be free and they deserve to be part of the European celebrations in Baku.”

“I also urge athletes, sport fans and supporters of the Games to show solidarity with Azerbaijani human rights defenders and join the calls for them to be freed immediately in the European spirit of freedom and human rights,” Mr. Forst stressed.

Mr. Forst’s appeal to the Azerbaijani Government has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression, David Kaye.


Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in June 2014. Michel Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

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“Azerbaijani Activists Must be Freed Before the Baku 2015 Games”–UN Expert