November 2, 2016: Below is the final speech of the imprisoned Azerbaijani pro-democracy activist Giyas Ibrahimov which he gave during his trial on October 25, 2016. Giyas Ibrahimov was arrested on trumped-up drug possession charges after he painted anti-regime graffiti on the statue of Heydar Aliyev, the late president of Azerbaijan and the father of the incumbent president of Azerbaijan. Despite the insistence of the judge of the local Azerbaijani court, Giyas Ibrahimov refused to defend himself against the fabricated drug charges and delivered a political speech instead. The prosecutor demanded a nine-year sentence for Giyas Ibrahimov. Anvar Seyidov, presiding judge, made it a ten-year sentence to show his extra loyalty to the Aliyev regime. Below is the translation of the full text of Giyas Ibrahimov's final speech at his trial:
Translated from Azeri by Khadija Ismayil
I prepared a speech, but my written documents were confiscated.
I am not going to defend myself with regard to the charges brought against me. The crime I committed is as white as the graffiti spray I used. The real reason why I am here is that I as a young student dared to protest against lies of political system and nihilist mind existing in this state, the country that I belong to.
I didn’t break any written law. In written laws, my deeds are not described as a crime. What I broke is the non-written rules of the system.
BAKU. September 28, 2016: Opposition Musavat party has released a preliminary report about the recent constitutional referendum in Azerbaijan increasing the incumbent president's powers. The report details the law violations which undermine the legitimacy of the referendum. Below is the full text of the report:
Musavat Party Central Election Headquarters considers that, the 26 September 2016 referendum was held in the atmosphere of absence of explanation of essence, necessity of suggested amendments and changes by the initiators of the draft without presenting it to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for its opinion, lack of free political competition, equal campaigning and observation opportunities, absence of legislation meeting international standards.
The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe stated its preliminary opinion with regards to proposal of the Azerbaijani authorities to conduct a referendum and in connection with the issues raised at the referendum.
The preliminary opinion underlines the demonstrations of the Azerbaijani opposition against anti-democratic amendments and its position on reactionary amendments and changes proposed to the referendum.
BAKU. September 28, 2016: The Azerbaijani opposition National Council of Democratic Forces issued a statement refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the recent constitutional referendum increasing the powers of the incumbent Azeri president Ilham Ailyev. Below is the statement of the National Council:
A referendum vote on proposed constitutional amendments took place on September 26. In spite of the National Election Commission’s declaration that the turnout was close to 70%, objective observations demonstrate clearly that the Azerbaijani citizens effectively boycotted this referendum. The information obtained by the National Council from various polling centers show that the turnout was extremely low. Less than 10 % of voters took part at referendum. Even the always prevalent carousel method, whereby the special groups of people funded by budgetary organizations, move from one polling center to another voting several times at different locations, could not increase the turnout. Across all polling centers, ballot boxes were stuffed with bundles of vote bulletins.
BAKU. September 19, 2016 (RFE/RL): Yesterday, September 18, hundreds of supporters of an Azerbaijani opposition party rallied in the capital, demonstrating against a referendum later this month that seeks to strengthen President Ilham Aliyev’s authority.
Baku city police reported no major problems with the September 18 rally by the Musavat party, which ended after about two hours.
"Azerbaijan now finds itself in a crisis situation due to the incorrect policies of the Aliyev regime. We urgently need reforms in the country," Arif Gadzhili, a top party leader, told the crowd holding Azerbaijani flags and photographs of people believed to be political prisoners.
"However, the Aliyev regime, which has concentrated power in one hand, is conducting policies that are aimed at putting yet more power in that hand," he added.
The rally had been authorized by government officials.
The September 26 referendum has generated sharp criticism from Azerbaijan's beleaguered opposition, as well as civil society activists, journalists, and others.
BAKU. September 11, 2016 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijani authorities have released an opposition activist from jail, just weeks after his detention prompted international criticism in Europe, North America, and elsewhere.
Colleagues of Natig Jafarli, of the Republican Alternative Movement, said he was released from a Baku jail on September 9. The head of the Republican movement, Ilqar Mammadov, remains in prison.
Jafarli was arrested on August 12, charged with “illegal entrepreneurship” and other charges that prosecutors said stemmed from a grant the Republican movement received from the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, the National Democratic Institute.
BAKU. September 7, 2016: On September 5, the Azerbaijani opposition party Musavat issued a progress report on the campaign for referendum on the constitutional amendments proposed by the Azerbaijani government, reports the Turan News Agency . The document reflects the law violations from the date of the announcement of the referendum on July 26 until August 31 this year. The constitutional referendum is pushed by the Azerbaijani government to extend the presidency term from five to seven years and also increase the executive powers of the Azerbaijani government.
According to the report issued by Musavat, the Azerbaijani government has not yet provided any detailed explanation to the Azerbaijani people about the essence of the referendum. The draft amendment was not submitted to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for evaluation. The authorities did not organize any public discussions on TV. In fact, no public debate has been held to discuss the upcoming referendum on the constitutional changes.
The only campaign group “Republic” was established by the opposition, but the Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan refused to register it violating yet another election/referendum law. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal from the decision of the Central Election Commission. Thus, the attempt to have a public eye on the referendum process has effectively been prevented by the Azerbaijani government.
BAKU. September 6, 2016: The Turan News Agency reports that the Nasimi District Court of Baku rejected the appeal for bail filed on behalf of Natig Jafarli, one of the leaders of the opposition REAL movement imprisoned on trumped up charges. Natig Jafarli is accused of receiving grants for his nonprofit organization from international organizations in violation of the Azerbaijani laws.
Jafarli was arrested on August 12 this year. The next day the local court put him in pretrial custody for four months.
Investigation Department for Serious Crimes of the General Prosecutor's Office brought charges against him under the Articles 192.1 (illegal entrepreneurship) and 308.2 (abuse of power, resulting in serious consequences) of the Criminal Code.
PARIS. August 24, 2016 (RSF.org): Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the arrest of Faiq Amirov, the financial director of the leading opposition daily Azadlig, and calls for the withdrawal of the ludicrous charges brought against him. Amirov, who is also an adviser to the head of the opposition Popular Front Party, was arrested on 20 August and was charged two days later with “inciting religious hatred” and “violating the rights of citizens under the pretext of conducting religious rites. ”The authorities, who have ordered him held provisionally for three months, absurdly claim that he is an “imam” in the movement led by Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish cleric now regarded by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the leading threat to his government. The claim is based on the alleged discovery of books about the Gülen Movement’s philosophy in the trunk of Amirov’s car at the time of his arrest. The allegation has been greeted with widespread incredulity and well-known independent journalist Khadija Ismayilovacommented: “They used to plant arms and drugs to frame critics, but now they have upgraded to planting books.
PRAGUE. August 22, 2016: Having failed to persuade key defendants in the so-called “Nardaran trial” to implicate Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) Chairman Ali Karimli in an alleged plot by Islamic extremists to incite mass disturbances with a view to seizing power, the Azerbaijani authorities have now changed tack. Over the past several days, four PFPA activists have been apprehended on a variety of charges; one of them is accused of being a follower of exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims was behind the botched coup attempt last month.
According to Azerbaijani presidential administration deputy head Novruz Mamedov, several Azerbaijani opposition parties have links to Gulen’s Hizmet movement. He warned that all its supporters in Azerbaijan will be identified.
The PFPA , together with the Musavat Party, is one of Azerbaijan’s longest-established opposition parties -- it is the successor organization of the Azerbaijani Popular Front established in 1989 -- and one of very few ever to have won parliamentary representation. Karimli, 50, who has served as party chairman since 2000, was elected to parliament in 1995 and 2000.
Karimli has for years been denied a passport for travel abroad, and the Justice Ministry declined late last year to recognize as legal his reelection as PFPA chairman.
OSLO. August 17, 2016 (HumanRightsHouse.org): Several Azerbaijani activists including; Natig Jafarli, Elshan Gasimov, Togrul Ismayiıov, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, and Elgiz Qahreman have been arrested in the run up to a national referendum on expanding presidential powers. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) calls for the authorities in Azerbaijan to cease intimidating opposition and dissent during the referendum period. Additionally, we encourage the Council of Europe to hold Azerbaijan to its standards by guaranteeing the right to participate in public life during the referendum period, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
The proposed amendments would prolong the presidential term from five to seven years and introduce the posts of first vice president and vice president. Other proposed changes are related to restrictions in the right to freedom of assembly, which would be contingent on "public order and morality"; and the right to property, which could be restricted in the interests of "social justice and effective land use.” In addition, Azerbaijani citizenship could be withdrawn "in accordance with the law." The referendum will be held on 26 September 2016.
“Everyone should be allowed to freely and safely express their opinion during a campaign – the right to participate in public life includes disagreeing with the government’s proposal. A popular referendum, in particular, should be an opportunity for true public debate on the future of the State’s institutions. Instead, we fear that we are now seeing the beginning of a new wave in the crackdown on civil society and opposition in direct relation to the referendum.” commented Ane Bonde, HRHF’s Regional Manager, Eastern Europe and Caucasus.