Azerbaijan: Joint third-party intervention highlights denationalisation as a tool to stifle freedom of expression

24 September 2018

Copenhagen- New York- Toronto  — International Media Support (IMS), IFEX, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP) have submitted a joint third-party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Azerbaijani journalist and human rights defender Emin Huseynov.

Emin Huseynov, now living in exile in Switzerland, is a prominent journalist and human rights defender. He is the director and co-founder of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), a leading Azerbaijani NGO set up in 2006 to protect freedom of expression and promote independent online reporting. Huseynov’s complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (Court) argues that he has been illegally stripped of his citizenship by Azerbaijani government in retaliation for his critical views.

The third-party intervention addresses, among other things, one of the core issues raised in the current case – the use of denationalisation as a tool of political persecution. The submission also outlines how deprivation of citizenship contributes to silencing dissenting voices within the wider context of oppression of journalists, media and civil society actors in Azerbaijan.

In recent years, authorities have increasingly resorted to a wide range of repressive tactics including incarceration, torture, harassment, threats, travel bans, prosecution and imprisonment to silence peaceful critics. The current case is not an isolated one; it bears similar hallmarks to many other cases involving journalists, bloggers and civil society leaders.

“Denationalisation of Emin Huseynov marks another low point for Azerbaijani authorities who have systematically sought to slash independent voices. It is simply yet another tactic to silence a human rights defender who is well known both for his professional record and his critical view of governance in Azerbaijan”, said Gulnara Akhundova, Head of IMS’ Global Response Department.

“Azerbaijan is one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world. The repressive techniques that authorities there use against reporters and media activists, including Emin Huseynov and his brother, Mehman, currently jailed for his journalism in Azerbaijan, deserve international condemnation. We urge the Court to rule in favor of Emin Huseynov and send a strong signal that it will not tolerate abusive behaviors by member nations seeking to silence critical voices through means such as denationalization,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia research associate.

The politically motivated persecution of prominent individuals working in Azerbaijani civil society is a growing concern. Tactics used by authorities are increasingly numerous and legally sophisticated. The Interveners ask the Court to examine the current repression of journalists, human rights defenders and civic activists in Azerbaijan in the context of Azerbaijan’s human rights obligations as a member-state of the Council of Europe. The Court’s role as an international remedy shielding human rights and fundamental freedoms in the region will be decisive in this case.

“The need to adjudicate against the deprivation of citizenship as a punishment for expressing one’s opinions or beliefs in Azerbaijan is critical. One need only to look to other countries where this practice has gone unchecked to see how destructive this can be for public debate and the free flow of information. In Bahrain, for example, hundreds of individuals, including journalists, human rights defenders, religious figures, and opposition leaders, have been stripped of their citizenship, contributing to a pervasive climate of fear of reprisal for speaking out on issues that are uncomfortable for the government and royal family,” warns Annie Game, Executive Director of the IFEX network.

“Given that similar pervasive tactics have been used in several other countries across the world, it is of critical importance that we stand together against deprivation of citizenship where the purpose of such a measure is to stifle open public debate on political and other socially important matters” said Richard Winfield of ISLP.

Through the intervention, the organisations invite the Court to consider that the denationalisation of Emin Huseynov violates his right to freedom of expression by preventing his full participation in public debate in Azerbaijan.

Download and read our intervention to the European Court of Human Rights below.