On April 16, Rasul Jafarov was sentenced to ten years in prison for failing to navigate a purposefully unnavigable bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is not an administrative body, but a device manufacturing paper-thin justifications to deprive inconvenient citizens of their freedom. By refusing to legally register Jafarov’s Human Rights Club, the state presented him with two choices: to live in a sort of freedom on the state’s terms, or to live in prison on his own.
The international reaction has been swift:
“Jafarov’s conviction should be a jarring wake-up call to Azerbaijan’s international partners.” –
Human Rights Watch
“As a first step, we urge the authorities to release Mr. Jafarov and others incarcerated in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms. Doing so would strengthen the country’s long-term stability and our bilateral relationship.” –
US State Department
“This ridiculous sentence is a punishment for Jafarov’s human rights activism. The authoritarian regime in Baku are scared of the attention Jafarov would bring during the high profile sport events they are proudly hosting.” –
Index on Censorship
The same protestations followed the imprisonment of Lelya Yunus, Khadija Ismailova, and dozens more less-famous activists and journalists. That
Intigam Aliyev is next
is not a matter of dispute. Contrary to Human Rights Watch’s well-intentioned statements, Jafarov’s conviction should not be a wake-up call to Azerbaijan’s international partners, as it was not an aberration, but a continuation of the status quo. Imprisoning activists is what the government of Ilham Aliyev does.
Azerbaijan is a voluntary signatory of
treaties that explicitly forbid this type of behavior, and it has consistently and correctly ascertained that it faces no tangible penalties for violating them. Note the US State Department’s language above – not even the most paranoid official could find an implication of punitive action in those words.
International human rights activists can bring these cases to light, but no amount of publicity can combat the indifference of Western officials and politicians. They sympathize, requests for leniency are made, and in extreme cases, sometimes they even issue condemnations. But they never act.
How many more Rasul Jafarovs will go to jail before they do?