Jabbar Savalan Freed!

December 27, 2011

“We will not be scared off by imprisonment or punishment. They may arrest us, but they can’t break us. Freedom of speech is our right, as it is the right of everyone. We will continue our struggle.” – Jabbar Savalan

Jabbar Savalan, an Azerbaijani student who spent almost 11 months in prison for a Facebook post, has been released!  He was freed after receiving a presidential pardon on December 26th.

Obviously the release of a prisoner of conscience is always a cause for celebration. We are delighted for Jabbar and his family. It is important now that his conviction is quashed and his reputation restored.

His case was part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, during which hundreds of thousands of people in over 80 countries come together and take action to demand that peoples’ rights are respected. Over one million appeals were made as part of the 2011 marathon prior to Jabbar Savalan’s release.

Also, thanks to our Facebook followers and blog readers spreading the word about our “Dislike Injustice” petition, we were able to collect and deliver over 38,000 petition signatures to the Azerbaijani authorities in New York earlier this month. You can see photos of the petition delivery on Facebook.

After his release, Jabbar told us on Monday night:

“It feels good to be with my friends again. I feel good now that I can spend time with them and my family.  Amnesty International is a symbol of human rights and freedom, not just in Azerbaijan, but everywhere in the world. I am grateful for all the hard work done by your organization and other organizations which fight for freedom in Azerbaijan.”

Jabbar Savalan was arrested and accused of drugs possession on February 5th, a day after he posted on Facebook calling for Egypt-inspired protests against the government. He was convicted despite a blood test showing that he had not used drugs, largely on the basis of a confession extracted under duress while he was denied access to a lawyer.

In March and April, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against government corruption and to call for fair elections and respect for human rights. Amnesty International’s recent report, Azerbaijan: The Spring that Never Blossomed, documents how hundreds of protestors were arrested and 16 of the alleged organizers were sentenced to long prison terms in unfair trials.

We warmly welcome Jabbar’s release as a first step – but there are still 16 more prisoners of conscience dating from the spring protests languishing in jail. Their release is imperative for the cause of justice in Azerbaijan.

In May 2012 the international spotlight will fall on Azerbaijan as it hosts the 2012 Eurovision song contest. Azerbaijani activists are using this opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the authorities’ human rights abuses.