The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has awarded its annual Havel Human Rights Prize to Azerbaijani activist and political prisoner Anar Mammadli.
Mammadli was given the award by a panel of European parliamentarians, who voted on the winner from a list of 56 nominees. The award also comes with a $79,000 prize and was announced at a parliamentary meeting held in Strasbourg on Monday.
The award, given for the first time in 2013, is given to activists who have done outstanding work to promote civil society and human rights. Its previous recipient was Belarusian political activist Ales Bialiatski.
Mammadli received the award for his work promoting human rights and equality in Azerbaijan, which saw him arrested and jailed as part of President Aliyev’s crackdown on activists and journalists.
As an activist Mammadli has been active since the 1990s when he founded the Secular Youth Progress Organisation at the age of just 19. Since then he worked as an independent journalist and also established the Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS) which aimed to combat election fraud and politically-motivated arrests. It was his work with the EMDS that inevitably led to his arrest, after the centre attempted to expose election fraud during the October 2013 presidential elections in which President Aliyev retained office with a supposed 85% of votes.
Mammadli was arrested in December 2013 and jailed for illegal business, tax evasion and abuse of authority, charges almost identical to those later leveled towards activists, journalists and lawyers who were arrested following the regime’s crackdown on dissident voices. Mammadli and his supporters deny all criminal accusations and claim that his prosecution was a politically-motivated act.
News of the award was welcomed by many international campaigners, who are hoping that the symbolic act will draw attention to the plight of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners. The announcement, however, comes following ongoing criticism of the EU, who many claim are acting hypocritically and not doing enough to tackle human rights violations in Azerbaijan. Last week a group of political refugees from Azerbaijan protested Europe’s lack of involvement in the situation outside the European Parliament’s Brussels office, with many individuals accusing the EU of holding double standards.