A 10-year jail sentence handed to Giyas Ibrahimov, a 22-year-old youth activist detained after spraying graffiti on a statue of the former President of Azerbaijan, is a shocking assault on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.
“Giyas Ibrahimov’s sentence is an absolute travesty of justice. He was arrested simply for painting a slogan on a statue, and was later tortured into ‘confessing’ to serious drug crimes. The authorities now want him to spend the rest of his youth behind bars on these fabricated charges,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
“It is deeply disturbing to see the lengths to which Azerbaijani authorities will go to silence their critics. We are calling on them to quash this sentence based on trumped-up charges and immediately release Giyas Ibrahimov, and to carry out an independent investigation into the torture and other ill-treatment he has been subjected to.”
The Grave Crimes Court in Baku sentenced Giyas Ibrahimov to 10 years’ imprisonment on 25 October after finding him guilty of drug offences under Article 234 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
Giyas Ibrahimov and fellow activist Bayram Mammadov were arrested on 9 May 2016, after Mammadov posted a photo on Facebook of graffiti they had painted on a statue of Heydar Aliyev, the late former President of Azerbaijan and the father of the current President Ilham Aliyev.
Police claim they discovered around eight grams of heroin in their possession, but during questioning the youth activists were only asked questions about the graffiti. Police officers repeatedly demanded that the activists publicly apologize for insulting Heydar Aliyev and subjected them to severe beatings when they refused. Their lawyer says that they were covered with bruises after being interrogated, and that they were also forced to clean the police station’s toilets while being filmed as a form of humiliation, and threatened with rape.
Amnesty International believes that Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov are prisoners of conscience and that the drug charges against them were fabricated with the sole purpose of punishing them for their political activities.
“Human rights defenders, political activists and independent journalists in Azerbaijan are in a chokehold, with dissenting voices at risk of blackmail, torture and physical assault. We are urging international partners to put pressure on Azerbaijani authorities to uphold their obligations under international law, and ensure respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Denis Krivosheev.
Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov are students and members of NIDA, a pro-democracy youth movement. The graffiti for which they were arrested read “Happy Slave Day”, a play on the slogan “Happy Flower Day” which is celebrated on 10 May, the former president’s birthday. On the other side of the statue the activists used obscene language in messages of political protest.
Bayram Mammadov’s court hearings continue. If found guilty, he could face similar charges.
Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov will feature in Amnesty International’s 2016 Write for Rights campaign.