March 4, Amnesty International launched an international petition calling to free all prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan in the run up to the European Games.
With some 100 days left before Baku opens its doors to some 6,000 athletes and guests from all over the world, rights watchdogs are intensifying their efforts in an attempt to call for more attention on the on-going crackdown in the country and the persecution of rights activists.
"Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov (human rights defenders), Khadija Ismayilova (journalist), Intigam Aliyev (lawyer), and Ilgar Mammadov (political opponent) are behind bards, only for lawfully exercising their freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly. They are jailed on trumped-up and politically motivated charges. New restrictive laws are used to make this easy".
Also today, Amnesty International released its report, "Guilty of Defending Rights: Azerbaijan's human rights defenders and activists behind bars".
The report highlights the recent threats, physical violence and the imprisonment of all government critics. "The use of systematic harassment and intimidation to stilfle public debate has not been confined to human rights defenders and NGOs. The authorities have also intensified their crackdown on the political opposition, activsts and journalists critical of the government" reads the report.
On March 4, joining Amnesty's calls to release all imprisoned activists was Human Rights Watch. HRW photo essay "Paying the Price: Azerbaijan Silences Independent Voices" highlights the plights of 12 most prominent human rights defenders, journalists, and activists.
European Games will take place between June 12 and 28 in Azerbaijan.