Press Release — Azerbaijan: HRF Condemns Wrongful Conviction of Pro-Democracy Activist


The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the decision of the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan to uphold the wrongful conviction of Ilkin Rustemzadeh and calls on the Court to reverse its decision and release him immediately. Rustemzadeh is a human rights activist and member of two civic movements for democratic reform, the Free Youth Organization and NIDA. In 2013, he was arrested and arbitrarily held in pre-trial detention for over six months for allegedly filming and posting a humorous interpretation of the well-known “Harlem Shake” dance online, which he has vehemently denied. On May 6, 2014 the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced Rustemzadeh to eight years in prison for “hooliganism” and “preparation of mass disorder” for his alleged involvement in the video and for creating a Facebook event publicizing a 2013 demonstration in Baku. The Supreme Court upheld Rustemzadeh’s sentence on October 15.

“The case of Rustemzadeh is emblematic of Azerbaijan’s ongoing repression of civil society activists. In the last few years, Aliyev’s dictatorship and its subservient court system have repeatedly fabricated charges to persecute and punish those who dare to expose his kleptocratic regime,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “Rustemzadeh symbolizes Azerbaijan’s youth, a generation that is fed up with life under a hypocritical regime that, despite its commitment to uphold the principles of the Council of Europe, flagrantly disregards the rule of law and the fundamental rights of Azerbaijanis. Rustemzadeh and all other imprisoned NIDA members should be released immediately,” added Halvorssen.

In the verdict, the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced seven other members of the NIDA movement on similar charges with prison terms ranging from six to eight years. While four of them have been released following a presidential pardon in October and December 2014, the remaining NIDA members, including Rustemzadeh, remain behind bars.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Contact: Noemi Gonzalo-Bilbao, (212) 246-8486,