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Rasul Jafarov sentenced to six years and six months in prison

Azerbaijani human rights defender Rasul Jafarov has been sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison. Mr Jafarov was also banned from holding a public office for a three-year term. He was accused of illegal business activities, tax evasion and abuse of power.

Rasul Jafarov was a founder and chairman of the Human Rights Club and coordinator of “Sing for Democracy”, the prominent campaign that aimed to raise the global awareness of the human rights abuses in Azerbaijan before the finale of 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. In October 2014, Mr Jafarov and several other human rights activists received the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award bestowed by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Rasul Jafarov was arrested in August 2014 in Baku on charges of carrying out a business illegally. In December 2014, the prosecution presented another charges such as financial fraud and forgery of documents. Prosecutors sought the sentence of nine years in prison.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and Dutch Helsinki Committee monitored the trial of Rasul Jafarov. Already at the pre-trial stage, the activist’s lawyers experienced problems with accessing the files of the case. For a prolonged period, this prevented the drafting of a proper defence strategy. Rasul Jafarov was brought to hearings handcuffed, in a crowded bus. Before each court session, he was woken up in the middle of the night and taken to a special cell where he awaited the transfer to court. In the courtroom, Mr Jafarov was initially placed in a metal cage, which effectively prevented him from communicating with his defence team.

The prosecution has failed to show any detriment that would be suffered by individuals or broad state interest in consequence of the abuse of power he had allegedly committed. More than 10 witnesses were heard in the case, the majority of them presented as “victims” of Rasul Jafarov’s unlawful acts. However, the witnesses testified that they did not feel affected by the human rights defender’s actions and asked not to be treated as victims.

Jafarov’s lawyers submitted statements from more than 20 organisations that sponsored the activist’s work, which claimed that he had properly accounted for the received funds and spent the money for legitimate purposes. However, the prosecutors said these submissions were fabricated.

Rasul Jafarov has the right to an appeal.

He has already launched a case before the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that he had been illegally detained on political grounds.

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