#SetThemFree Campaign Updates
On August 29, 2019, journalist Seymur Hazi was released from prison after serving five years on charges of “hooliganism.” Last year, the World Movement interviewed Hazi’s wife and father to learn more about his politically-motivated case and the harassment he has faced throughout his career. We remain gravely concerned that five years were taken from Hazi under false pretenses and are urgently concerned about the targeted harassment of independent voices in the country.
Hazi was detained on August 29, 2014, after being attacked by an unknown man while waiting at a bus stop. Despite being the victim, he was charged with “hooliganism” and handed a five year sentence. In December 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled his sentence illegal and ordered the government of Azerbaijan to pay him 13,000 Euros as compensation. However, he was not released until serving the entirety of his sentence. Read more about Seymur Hazi here.
The government of Azerbaijan continues to harass investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was released on probation on May 25, 2016, after spending over a year in prison. On August 7, 2019, a court upheld the Tax Ministry’s decision to fine her 45,000 manats ($26,000) for alleged tax evasion as Baku bureau chief for Radio Free Liberty from 2007-2009. Although RFL is a registered non-profit and therefore exempt from taxes, the court levied the fine against Ismayilova. Additionally, in a separate case, a district court declined Ismayilova’s petition to end her five-year probation sentence, which includes a travel ban.
As an investigative journalist, Ismayilova has uncovered massive levels of corruption involving Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family. For her work, she has received a number of prestigious awards. She has also been a frequent target of the government of Azerbaijan, which has violated her right to privacy and detained her unlawfully multiple times. Read more about Khadija Ismayilova here.
On August 27, 2019, authorities raided the home of Jose Daniel Ferrer, which also serves as the headquarters of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU)—the country’s largest pro-democracy organization and a frequent target of government repression. Ferrer, the group’s founding president, was arrested alongside four other UNPACU activists. Authorities also seized “televisions, tables, chairs, everything that served to help the people,” according to a witness. Read more about UNPACU and the ways its members are consistently targeted by their government here.