Upbeat. That is what his voice sounds like. There is no sign of defeatism, apathy, anger or grief. Despite the unfair accusations and trial the Azerbaijani human rights defender Elvin had to endure, he remains positive. It is a laudable attitude for someone who has been unjustly held in prison for over a year.
Elvin: “Some years ago I have set up a human rights organization in Azerbaijan. It was an active organization up until the government falsely accused me of illegal business, tax evasion, abuse of power and various other things for which no real evidence could be found. More than ten prosecutors and multiple judges worked on my case. The authorities tried to collect evidence, searching my house, asking for every single receipt of my administration. I helped them and even though they could not find anything, charges were brought against me. Relentless and without regard to human rights my process was executed.”
The activist continues: “Before my trial I was locked up in prison for three months, a period which was prolonged to six months. It was an unpleasant experience. A prison cell is small, doors and windows are closed and walking outside is restricted to a part where one is able to see merely a glimpse of the sky.”
During his period in jail Elvin reached out to international human rights organizations located outside of Azerbaijan. Moreover, he wrote numerous letters to the government. Despite involvement and pressure from international stakeholders, Elvin was convicted to six years in prison.
“During my trial I had to wear handcuffs and I was forced to remain in an iron cage. The witnesses were manipulated by the prosecutors. Overall, the authorities created atrocious judicial conditions. I spent almost 600 days in jail. Finally, a pardon decree of the president set me free. The release of prisoners of conscience is often part in an international bargain. In return, the government is able to receive for instance international loans.”
In the meantime, the European Court for Human Rights has judged Elvin’s case. They came to the conclusion that both the execution of the lawsuit as well as the conviction were aimed to silence and punish Elvin for his activities in the area of human rights.
Even though he is a free man again, Elvin is unable to pursue the human rights activities he has been involved in for over ten years: newly introduced legislation and regulations make independent human rights work de-facto impossible. Executing his profession as a barrister is not possible either as his conviction has not been quashed. In Azerbaijan, people with criminal records are not allowed to register as lawyers for over a decade.
“I am currently without a job. Financially I rely on the support of my family and friends. The criminal conviction is really a burden for me. It is important for me that it will be abolished. I have no intention to leave Azerbaijan in the future and I hope to be able to work as a human rights defender again one day. I have always tried to do the right thing and follow the law. The way I acted during my trial demonstrates this. I am not a criminal.”
Note: Elvin is a fictitious name, but his story is real.