Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Emin Aslan was prevented from boarding a flight out of Azerbaijan in Baku International Airport on Monday morning, he has confirmed to OC Media. Aslan was released 13 days ago after serving 30 days in administrative detention for ‘disobeying police’. His detention in June was condemned at the time by local rights groups as well as the EU Parliament.
Aslan told OC Media he was informed by border agents at the airport that he was subject to a travel ban, something he said he had not previously been told. ‘They informed me that my travel ban was [issued] by the Ministry of Internal Affairs on 30 May 2018. This is the date I entered Azerbaijan from the US’, Aslan said.
‘This is a violation of my freedom of movement because I have never been a witness or suspect in any criminal case and I do not have any debt or tax obligation’, he added. Aslan said his lawyers had appealed to the Prosecutor General’s Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs for more information about the ban.
Aslan, a recent graduate of Syracuse University College of Law in New York State, previously worked for two Tbilisi-based rights groups, the Eastern European Centre for Multiparty Democracy and the Human Rights House Tbilisi. He has helped to litigate a number of cases of alleged human rights abuses of Azerbaijani citizens at the European Court of Human Rights.
Abduction and conviction
Aslan was apprehended in Baku in early June by a group of men in civilian clothes, a week after his return to Azerbaijan. The following day, after local activists reported on his apparent abduction, the authorities informed Aslan’s lawyer that the Narimanov District Court had found him guilty of ‘disobeying police’ and sentenced him to 30 days administrative detention. Aslan was deprived of his right to legal counsel throughout his detention and the court hearings.
Local rights activists condemned Aslan’s detention. Levan Tsutskiridze head of the Eastern European Centre for Multiparty Democracy, where Aslan previously worked, called his detention ‘horrible’. ‘What future is there if we, instead of encouraging and protecting the best educated and most motivated people of our nations, silence them and throw them in prison cells hoping that they never ever speak again, that they never ever dream again of a better future?’ Tsutskiridze wrote in an open letter of support.
The European Parliament also condemned Aslan’s detention in a resolution passed on 4 July laying out the conditions the EU must put on Azerbaijan in exchange for deeper cooperation. The resolution called for his ‘immediate release’ and demanded Azerbaijan end ‘the use of administrative detentions to silence government critics’.
[Read from Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch: Opinion | The EU Parliament makes it clear — no deal for Azerbaijan unless it improves its rights record]
The resolution said the European Parliament would not ratify a comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan if the country ‘does not respect fundamental EU values and rights’, and instructed the European Council, European Commission, and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to prioritise fundamental freedoms and the fight against corruption in ongoing negotiations with the authorities in Baku.
The conclusion of the agreement would be the next step in advancing the EU’s relations with Azerbaijan, superseding the bilateral Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed in 1996.
The EU Parliament resolution also condemned Azerbaijan’s use of ‘arbitrary travel bans’ among other methods as ‘unacceptable practices’ for a potential partner country of the EU.
Azerbaijan’s government has for several years issued long-term travel bans against political activists and human rights defenders. Speaking to OC Media in May 2017, lawyer Fariz Namazli said the travel bans were designed to control and apply psychological pressure to local activists.
[Read more Azerbaijan’s travel bans on OC Media: Captive in their country: Azerbaijani journalists and activists barred from travelling abroad]
Azerbaijan has also been accused by activists of targeting critics abroad, restricting their movement with the threat of extradition back to Azerbaijan. Journalist Fikrat Huseynli, who fled Azerbaijan in 2008 and received political asylum in the Netherlands, was detained in Kyiv in October and faced extradition to Azerbaijan. Huseynli was allowed to leave the country by Ukrainian authorities in April.
[Read from our partners at oDR: Revenge by red notice: how Azerbaijan targets its critics abroad]
International rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Freedom House have condemned Azerbaijan’s human rights record.
In its 2018 report, Human Rights Watch said that during a continuing crackdown on independent voices, Azerbaijani authorities convicted at least 25 journalists and political activists in 2017, while dozens more were detained or are under criminal investigation, face harassment and travel bans, or have fled.
Freedom House’s Nation in Transit 2018 report named Azerbaijan as one of ‘Eurasia’s entrenched autocracies — [where] personalised regimes keep a tight grip on power, suppressing political competition and targeting independent activists and journalists who dare to speak out’.