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Op-Ed

ISSUE 62

ceU alUmnUS in the heart of Policy claSh Between the eU and azerBaijan

M

any CEU students dream about bringing change back home to their societies, or traveling to distant developing countries to take part in the struggle for human rights, dignity and democracy. Not many such dreams include going to prison. Ilgar Mammadov is one of us. After graduating from CEU, he established the civic movement Republican Alternative in Azerbaijan, to engage youth in political life and challenge the regime there. With this movement gaining momentum, he later ran for president. He understood he could not win in an environment in which President Ilham Aliyev controlled the media and administrative resources, but it was the only opportunity to speak to his people about the values of democracy and the corrupt regime’s crimes. The government arrested Ilgar for allegedly inciting a violent protest in Ismalli, a small town in which he had not even been present.

“When European authorities ignore the case of human rights in Azerbaijan, we feel that we were sold for oil and gas” Defense lawyers quickly appealed to the European Court for Human Rights, who ruled that Ilgar’s prosecution was politically motivated and he must be released. In June 2015, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe issued a

Helpsetthemfree.org resolution reminding Azerbaijan that the case of Ilgar Mammadov has to be resolved. Azerbaijan responded with an assault inside the prison, in which another prisoner attacked and beat Ilgar during a regular walk. Ilgar’s case has become a rallying cry for the enforcement of international human rights law in Europe. The initial reaction of the EU was rather mild. However the crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan is becoming more severe. Over a hundred activists, journalists, and opposition politicians now languish in the country’s prisons, and the issue is gaining attention in the European press, as well as NGO and policy circles. Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections this November may put additional pressure on the regime. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has announced that it will not monitor the elections, effectively delegitimizing them. The COE Committee of Ministers has again voiced the issue of implementation of ECtHR decisions, this time directly requesting the release of Ilgar Mammadov. At the moment it looks like the regime is at least pretending to step back: Ilgar’s case was suddenly heard in the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan. The court did not set

him free, but sent his case back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration. What will happen next remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Ilgar needs support and publicity. Several months ago I spoke to his fellow activist Natig Jafarli, who said, “We hope for international pressure. There is nothing to expect from our state. Many of our friends are behind bars… When European authorities ignore the case of human rights in Azerbaijan, we feel that we were sold for oil and gas.” Even from Europe, there is much we can do for Ilgar and other Azerbaijani activists. We can speak about Azerbaijan with journalists and politicians. We can make sure the pressure on the regime does not decrease. We can do it for the sake of dignity, for the sake of human rights, and with the hope of seeing our fellow alumnus delivering public lectures at CEU, instead of being beaten in prison. ~ Nataliya Novakova School of Public Policy Ukraine

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