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HRW urges France to press Azerbaijan on human rights

President Francois Hollande of France should urge President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan to free four human rights defenders jailed unjustly in Azerbaijan. The four are among dozens thrown behind bars in the government’s escalating crackdown on its critics the Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Hollande will meet with Aliyev in Paris on October 27, 2014, for a summit convened by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on the unresolved conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Hollande has a crucial opportunity he should not miss to raise human rights issues with Azerbaijan’s president,” said Jean-Marie Fardeau, Paris director at Human Rights Watch. “The charges against these activists in Azerbaijan are politically motivated, and Hollande’s voice is badly needed to help secure their freedom.”

The four activists – Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif; Intigam Aliyev; and Rasul Jafarov – are among the country’s most prominent human rights defenders.

In an October 17 letter, Human Rights Watch urged Hollande to call on Aliyev to release the four before his visit to France.

In the past two-and-a-half years the Azerbaijani authorities brought or threatened blatantly bogus criminal charges against dozens of independent and opposition political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, most of whom are now behind bars. Before their arrest, Leyla Yunus, Jafarov, and Aliyev had been working together on an annotated list of political prisoners to present to the Council of Europe and other intergovernmental institutions.

“Even as they risked arrest themselves, these human rights defenders were working for justice,” Fardeau said. “Hollande should make clear to Aliyev that Azerbaijan’s relationship with France can’t be business as usual as long as these four people remain behind bars and the crackdown against independent voices continues.”

President Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with Leyla Yunus during their visit to Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, in May. Yunus is also a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. The European Parliament included Yunus as one of three shortlisted candidates for the 2014 Sakharov Prize, which goes to the world’s top human rights defenders, in recognition of her outstanding activism. Although the prize was awarded on October 21 to a Congolese doctor, the European Parliament decided to send a special delegation to Baku with representatives from all political groups to “meet and to support Leyla Yunus in her fight for democracy in her country.”

“Azerbaijani officials say that the charges against these four human rights leaders are not politically motivated, but these claims don’t stand up to scrutiny,” Fardeau said. “It takes extraordinary courage to stand up for human rights principles in Azerbaijan, and Hollande needs to speak out on behalf of these brave human rights defenders.”

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