Our allies in Azerbaijan are under attack, right now, and we are asking people to send them solidarity messages and inspirational quotes.
On 5 December investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was arrested in Baku, Azerbaijan. As Khadija was bundled into a car camera flashes popped, people jostled and her friends banged on the car roof and shouted ‘Khadija!’. She managed to smile and wave, absorbing the loud melee before being confined to the silence of her cell.
In February Khadija published a statement to be read in the event of her arrest. She said:
If you can, please support by standing for freedom of speech in this country as loudly as possible. Otherwise, I rather prefer you not to act at all. I don’t want any private diplomacy for my case. My possible arrest will be just one of the more than hundred politically motivated arrests.
This statement is typical of the brilliant investigative journalist who has done more than any other to both reveal the corruption at the heart of the Aliyev regime and support Azerbaijan’s independent journalists. Apart from her journalism, Khadija also became a human rights defender, fighting tirelessly for the many people already in prison. As the Azerbaijan regime attacked her again and again she refused to go into hiding, refused to stop her investigations, refused to stop talking out. That is the reason she is in jail.
2014 has been marred by arrest after arrest in Azerbaijan. Several Platform allies, including Khadija, have been jailed by Azerbaijan’s fossil fuel dictator Ilham Aliyev, whose rule has been cemented by BP. Local rights groups report that there are nearly 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan’s jails.
The friends of those arrested have spoken about how important cards and letters are to prisoners. Human rights activist Gunay Ismayilova explains
It is very important to send prisoners support letters and cards to give them moral support and let them know that they are not alone.
Solidarity messages bring human words to those isolated in an inhuman system. We’re collecting inspirational quotes to send to Azerbaijani politcal prisoners – including Khadija. Maybe you want to share a few words from Angela Davis, Aung San Suu Kyi or Spike Milligan. Funny, poignant or indignant – whatever your favourite quote please share it.
You can send your quote using our online form below and we’ll write it out and post it off for you.
Or if you want to send a hand-written card please post it to:
Azerbaijan Prisoners, Platform, 7 Horselydown Lane, London SE1 2LN
or you can tweet your quote to @platformlondon with the hashtag #Quotes4Azerbaijan.
We will be posting the messages at the start of January.
The other prisoners we’ll be writing to
In August Rasul Jafarov was arrested shortly before his 30th birthday. Rasul organised the Sing for Democracy campaign during the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in Baku. He had just started the Sports for Rights campaign in advance of the 2015 European Olympics. The last time I saw Rasul was in April, we were sat in his new office in Baku. Rasul was joking about the number of times his organisation Art for Democracy has been forced to move because of the regime’s attacks.
On the same day I saw Intigam Aliyev for the last time, sat in his more familiar workplace he was surrounded by shelves of legal texts and bowls of brightly coloured sweets. Before his arrest Intigam worked as a human rights lawyer. He has submitted more than 200 applications to the European Court of Human Rights on election rigging, abuses of free speech and the right to a fair trail – something Intigam is now being denied.
During our meeting Intigam told me about the arrest of Anar Mammadli the previous December. Anar is the founder of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center. His imprisonment is widely seen as a result of his organisation’s damning assessment of Azerbaijan’s 2013 Presidential elections. On the day after Anar’s arrest then Foreign Secretary William Hague and other foreign politicians flew into Baku to attend the signing of the final investment decision for the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline – a huge gas pipeline, built by BP, that will entrench Aliyev even further.
One person I didn’t get to meet during my April trip was Leyla Yunus. I had heard lots about this internationally renowned activist who has spent decades fighting for basic human rights in Azerbaijan. Recently she had been challenging forced evictions, documenting political prisoners and promoting dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenian communities – the countries have been in conflict since the late 1980s. By the time I arrived in Baku Leyla was already being threatened and I was unable to meet with her. In August Leyla was arrested, along with her husband Arif and charged with spying for the Armenians, if found guilty she could face life imprisonment.
Since their arrests Leyla and Intigam have both been seriously ill, Leyla has been sexually threatened and put in solitary confinement and Rasul and Intigam have had their charges changed so they face longer prison sentences. The Aliyev regime is determined to crush the spirit of Azerbaijan’s activists.
Send Rasul, Intigam, Anar and Leyla your favourite inspirational quote