A few days ago, I had the privilege to speak at UNHRC. Here is the full transcript from that event.
I last spoke here in Geneva, three months ago. And while I wish I could share with you the news about progress achieved on the ground since then, I cannot.
Independent voices are still being muzzled while their families are used as bates by the local police to submit them into a state of desperateness- to force them into silence.
Not all give into the intimidation.
One of these brave individuals is Gunel Movlud, talented journalist, working for a dissident media outlet Meydan TV. She has seen it all- her parents disowning her and then her two brothers getting arrested, both being charged with drug possession.
After their arrest, Movlud wrote:
The arrest of my two brothers left my parents who are both battling with their health to death. Yes, I am afraid, of my family, my child, of my family getting ruined this way, of my life, of the life of my relatives. They can do anything. I am afraid and fear is absolutely normal. But I will continue my work even if I am afraid. This is not a sign of some bravery. It is just I cannot see myself live a different life. Those who cannot keep silent will continue to speak up. With love to all people with dignity!
On December 22, 2015, one of her brothers was sentenced to one year in jail based on article 234.1 of the criminal code- possession of drugs. He left behind three kids, and two sick parents, one suffering from diabetes, the other form cancer.
Just a few days ago, on March 7th, it was the three-year anniversary of 8 young men- at the time between 16 and 28 years of age- unjustly arrested, tried in a theater court, and then sentenced to jail to times ranging from 6 to 8 years. These young men were members of N!DA civic movement, a promising youth movement engaged in education, awareness raising, and grass roots youth development. These men were arrested shortly after the group organized a peaceful rally in 2013, demanding the government to investigate suspicious deaths of conscripts.
Following their sentence, Khadija Ismayil, whom many of you here know and who herself is currently in jail serving 7.5 year sentence, wrote,
Found guilty of being bright, intelligent, brave and honest.
Since their original arrest and sentence, four members of the movement were released, the rest remain in jail.
And yes while I as a rights defender, and as a friend, should be happy that some of them were freed I cannot enjoy the joy and simply be thankful. Because these men should not have been sent to jail to begin with. But they did spend their treasured time inside, with criminals, subject to torture, intimidation, and humiliation of many kinds. And all of this was possible because the government of Azerbaijan wanted so, and the rest of us were unable to do anything to change this.
There is nothing to be happy about.
There is only a feel of shame and frustration that the government is getting away with these power games.
I am not happy, because my friend Rashadat, who is one of the originally detained N!DA members, cannot reunite with his wife and his 3year old son because this right was taken away from him by some judge who was too busy implementing government orders to sentence my friend to 8 years and unaware of the damage this would have on Rashadat as well as his family.
Just today (March 11), the appeal of Leyla and Arif Yunus to leave the country for medical treatment was denied. Following the court decision Leyla Yunus said,
I am thankful to President Aliyev for releasing us from prison. We are alive but we also are not receiving any treatment. We can die any moment.
This is why, I believe that the time for quiet diplomacy is over, the time to pat the government of Azerbaijan on its shoulder and congratulate the government each time one or two political prisoners are released is over.
We have all seen it, it only encourages the Aliyev regime to put more people in prison- because at the end of the day, it can have both worlds- muzzled voices at home and international presence.
Our hope as rights defenders, journalists, activists- is your power to push the right buttons. You have to understand, that each time a positive statement comes out of Europe or America, this is used against us at home as the government boasts about the “international” support it has.
Most importantly you have to call the bluff of this regime- it has no intentions to improve so long as there is a soft approach to the country. We have country’s brightest, smartest, talented men and women in jail. We have a brain drain. We have an economic crisis. And look at the government- it continues to spend more and it continues to mistreat its people. It is clear that there is no intention to fix or change anything.
Before my friend, Khadija Ismayil, was arrested she asked for no silent diplomacy. She wanted the government of Azerbaijan to be criticized openly and loudly. She did not give up her freedom, to see us- her friends, her colleagues, and the international community fail at fulfilling her call.
I think it is time to really show people like Rasul Jafar, Seymur Hezi, Parviz Hashimli, Intigam Aliyev, Anar Mammadli, Ilgar Mammadov, and many others- that their efforts to build a society based on rights and freedoms were not wasted and that we can work together to overcome the division among the countries and their leaderships who are reluctant to act, or raise the criticism up a notch. I thank the Irish mission for their effort in keeping Azerbaijan on their agenda and I ask sincerely, other delegations sitting here today, to join their efforts.
I ask you to do this, not as a rights defender, or a journalist, or an activist but as an Azerbaijani citizen, desperate to see some hope and see my friends released from jail.