Jailed for Organizing a Protest on Facebook
Jabbar Savalan, an Azerbaijani student who spent almost 11 months in prison for a Facebook post, has been released following a presidential pardon on December 26th, 2011!
Savalan, a 20-year-old student and member of the opposition Popular Front Party (PFP) in Azerbaijan, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on May 4, 2011 on fabricated drug charges.
The day before his arrest, he had posted on Facebook calling for protests against the government which were to take place in the capital Baku. He was arrested the next evening without explanation or being informed of his rights in the city of Sumgayit as he was returning home from a PFP meeting. He was handcuffed and manhandled in and out of the vehicle before being searched at a police station where the police claim to have found 0.74g of marijuana in his outer jacket pocket.
Despite the blood test taken following his arrest, which showed no traces of drug use, Jabbar Savalan was convicted and sent to prison. There has been no investigation into the allegations that police planted evidence on him. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and assembly.
While in detention, Jabbar Savalan was interrogated without access to a lawyer and was reportedly slapped and threatened into signing a confession which he has since retracted. In addition, Jabbar Savalan’s lawyer, Anar GTake Action: Send Jabbar Savalan solidarity messages for his birthdayasimov, has told Amnesty International that he was threatened by the police officer who interrogated Jabbar Savalan after the trial.
Jabbar Savalan denied possessing the marijuana and said that the police must have planted it on him when they put him in the police vehicle. Amnesty International visited Jabbar Savalan’s family in March 2011 and they were adamant that the activist has no history of drug use. This was confirmed by his friends and classmates. One told Amnesty International: “Jabbar is not a smoker and doesn't drink alcohol at all – there is no way he would be a drug user.”
Following Jabbar Savalan’s arrest, a series of protests against government corruption, organized using Facebook, were met with a wave of arrests and criminal charges. In April 2011, seven opposition activists were charged with “organizing mass disorder” for their participation in the violently dispersed April 2nd “Day of Wrath” protests in Baku. The treatment of these activists highlights the range of human rights abuses currently occurring in Azerbaijan. Local rights groups report that the activists have been beaten by police and remanded in custody after closed hearings on the basis of no or very little evidence, without having been granted access to a lawyer of their choice. Amnesty International is deeply concerned by the authorities’ systematic violation of individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly, by the reported ill-treatment of individuals by officials while in custody, and by numerous violations of individuals’ right to a fair trial.