Azerbaijan: Facebook Activist Sentenced to 2.5 Years in Jail
The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan (IPGA) condemns the 4 May 2011 conviction of youth activist Jabbar Savalan, who was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment on politically motivated charges of drug possession. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is among the NGOs behind the statement comdemning the latest conviction of a youth activist in Azerbaijan.
Savalan was among the first cyber activists targeted in connection with a series of pro-democracy protests inspired by uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. The IPGA is deeply concerned with the continued targeting of online activists and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release them and cease the continuing clampdown on freedom of expression.
“Jabbar Savalan’s conviction and harsh prison sentence make it clear that it has become quite dangerous to use new media to criticise the authorities or call for protests in Azerbaijan,” said ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Agnès Callamard.
Savalan, who is a member of the opposition Popular Front Party, was arrested on 5 February 2011 after posting criticism of the authorities and calls for pro-democracy protests on his Facebook page. Savalan has no prior history of drug use or drug possession, and claims the drugs were planted on him by the police. The Azerbaijani authorities have a history of using drug possession charges to imprison government critics, including satirical journalist Sakit Zahidov and editor Eynulla Fatullayev.
“As with journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, the charges against online activist Jabbar Savalan are widely believed to be fabricated, demonstrating the government's refusal to protect its citizens’ rights to both protest and free expression,” said Index on Censorship Assistant Editor Natasha Schmidt.
Since Savalan’s arrest, the authorities have detained dozens of protest organisers and hundreds of protesters and used excessive force to disperse crowds. Blogger and youth activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev remains in detention, standing trial on politically motivated charges of evading military service, for which he faces up to two years’ imprisonment. Hajiyev was one of the administrators of a Facebook page behind some of the pro-democracy protests. Another of the administrators, Strasbourg-based blogger Elnur Majidli, faces up to 12 years’ imprisonment on charges of publically appealing for the violent overthrow of power, based on his online activities calling for protests and criticising the authorities. Majidli is the first cyber activist based outside of Azerbaijan to be criminally charged.