For citizens of Azerbaijan who have exhausted all the possibilities of justice in the country, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) may offer a last resort.
When they decide to take the case to the Strasbourg court, they are often guided by a specialized non-governmental group in legal advice and human rights. But the opportunity to request such assistance is dwindling rapidly because these organizations disappear from the landscape.
An organization that has contributed to the presentations of the ECHR, the Legal Education Society, closed its doors recently after its leader was arrested. On August 8, a court ordered qu’Intiqam Aliyev should be kept in detention while prosecutors built a case against him for tax fraud, abuse of power and illegal business activities. He denies all charges.
Another blow came with the closure of the Media Rights Institute, who also worked on cases before the ECHR. In a statement on August 15, its president Rashid Hajili said he had been forced to take this step because the organization was in financial trouble.
“There are problems in relations with donors who support the activities of the Institute of Media Rights recently, and no solution is in sight,” said Hajili. “This means that the Institute of Media Rights may not be able to continue working on court cases.”
The loss of the institute will have a serious impact on people like journalist Mukhtarli Afgan, who six cases currently before the ECHR.
“The organization [Institute of Media Rights] has provided legal assistance to 150 legal cases against journalists” Has he said. ‘He defended my interests in all these [six] cases. Now back to me and if there is no one to defend my rights. There are very few independent lawyers. Many lawyers are afraid to file a complaint against the government of Azerbaijan to the ECHR. “
Friends and admirers of the work of the Institute suspect it was forced to close for political rather than financial reasons, but it just is not able to say so openly. Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist foreground, is among those that the Institute of Media Rights helped.
“I am grateful for the help they have given me so far,” she said.
She told IWPR that it was obvious that the Institute had been under strong pressure.
“The pressure from the government is why the Institute of Media Rights has stopped working,” she said. “The accounts of the Institute have been frozen, and his head [Hajili] emigrated long ago. Then he came back and suddenly announced that the institute was closed and as he had never been involved in a case involving political prisoners …. In this difficult situation, the Institute has clearly decided not to the struggle. We have no choice but to respect that decision. “
Ganimat Zahid, editor Azadliq, an opposition newspaper, agrees that the Institute was forced to close rather than choosing to do so. “The policy of persecution of the authorities must have an impact on NGOs’ Has he told IWPR. “The Institute of Media Rights has taken a firm stand on matters of principle, and was one of those organizations that the government has always been in the crosshairs. I think if she had not stopped working, his head Rashid Hajili was arrested. The organization has clearly stopped its activities to avoid imminent arrest. “
Five days before the Institute has announced its closure, one of the staff members made a statement in support of President Ilham Aliyev. After the NGOs and political prisoners have expressed dismay Elchin Sadigov, a lawyer, wrote on Facebook that he was the victim of a witch hunt. Hajili came to his defense, also on Facebook, but did not answer the questions that were posted on the reasons why the institute was closed.
Management of Azerbaijan continues to reject any suggestion that it is behind the arrests in series of his critics and the closure of their organizations.
“It is unfortunate that these NGOs and individuals – and some journalists – fall back on foreign forces who fund and consider themselves above the national law, by refusing to declare their grant-funded project accounts, to pay taxes and comply with other legal requirements set by the government, “said Ali Hasanov, head of Political Affairs of the presidential administration, the news agency AzerTas. “In these areas, appropriate measures that the institutions of the state have taken are unfortunately described as” pressure on civil society “and” restrictions “on the operation of NGOs and the media. This is a campaign to blacken the reputation of Azerbaijan. “
Leyla Mustafayeva is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting