#BooksForRasul: What Jailed Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders Need Most? Books.

Cover image of the #BooksForRasul Facebook page.

Cover image of the #BooksForRasul Facebook page.

Azerbaijani human rights activist Rasul Jafarov was brought in for interrogation several days in a row in late July 2014 and subsequently arrested in Baku on 2 August. The Nasimi District Court in Azerbaijan ordered a 3-month pre-trial prison detention for Jafarov, pending further investigation into the controversial criminal charges brought against him. The young activist will be spending his 30th birthday, on 17 August, behind bars.

Jafarov is a well-known human rights activist from Azerbaijan who “worked for political prisoners until he became one.” He is the founder and president of the Human Rights Club (HRC), a NGO he founded in 2010 and whose main goal has been to document political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Thanks to his work with the HRC, the extent of politically-motivated crackdown in Azerbaijan was revealed weeks before the 2013 election. Jafarov has also actively participated to the “Sing for Democracy” (now, “Art for Democracy”) campaign which tracks attacks on freedom of expression and works with dissenting artists penalised for their political message.

Several international organizations have spoken out against Jafarov's arrest and detention, as well as against the on-going government crackdown on human rights activists in the country. Armenian news site Panorama explained some of the troubling factors behind the Azerbaijani government's crackdown:

The arrest of Rasul Jafarov, founder of the Human Rights Club (HRC) and coordinator of the human rights campaign during 2012 Eurovision song contest hosted by Azerbaijan, was a retaliation against him for his work as a human rights defender. Rasul Jafarov has been deprived of freedom in connection with his attempts to exercise his right to freedom of expression and association, Amnesty International says in a statement.

The statement also mentions that independent human rights and pro-democracy organisations have long faced harassment and restrictions in Azerbaijan. The refusal to register NGOs leaves their leaders with no choice but to operate outside the strict legal framework, which is later used by the authorities as a pretext for their criminal prosecution. Rasul Jafarov is the fifth person to be prosecuted on these grounds in the last four months.

A Facebook event kicked off on 7 August inviting people to send him a book as a birthday gift:

We all have imaginations and plans on how we want(ed) our 30 b-day to be. None of us wants to turn 30 in prison as [a] political prisoner.

Emin Mili, an Azeri writer, blogger and activist, who was also a political prisoner from 2009 to 2010, suggested to send books to Rasul […] “Books in jail turn jail into a paradise for reading,” – says Emin.

You can also follow the ‘Free Rasul Jafarov!’ Facebook page for updates on the case [az, en].

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