Azerbaijan: A decade in jail for graffiti activist is a shameless attempt to stifle criticism
A 10-year jail sentence handed by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes in Azerbaijan to Bayram Mammadov, a youth activist who has been detained since May 2016 after spraying graffiti on a statue of the former President of Azerbaijan, is a shameless attempt by the Azerbaijani authorities to crush dissent out of existence, Amnesty International said today.
“Bayram Mammadov was arrested for painting a slogan on a statue, and was later tortured into ‘confessing’ to serious drug crimes. The charges against him were clearly fabricated with the sole purpose of punishing him for his activism. This outrageously long sentence following already prolonged, unnecessary and arbitrary detention is a blow to all peaceful activists in Azerbaijan,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
“The Azerbaijani authorities continue to show utter contempt to freedom of expression, and seem so determined to silence every last critic that they are willing to trample on the truth. They must also carry out an independent investigation into the torture and other ill-treatment he was subjected to.”
Bayram Mammadov and fellow activist Giyas Ibrahimov 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. Giyas Ibrahimov was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment on 25 October by the Baku Grave Crimes Court for drug-related charges
Police claim they discovered around eight grams of heroin in their possession, but the activists say this was planted, and that during questioning they 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 threatened with rape. Reportedly, they were also forced to clean the police station’s toilets while being filmed as a form of humiliation.
Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov feature in Amnesty International’s 2016 Write for Rights campaign. This December millions of people around the world will call on President Ilham Aliyev to release Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov immediately and unconditionally.
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.
Civil society and political dissent are harshly repressed in Azerbaijan, with human rights organizations frequently harassed and persecuted. All mainstream media is under government control. Independent outlets face harassment and closure and independent journalists face intimidation, harassment, threats and violence.