2015 WM Isabel SantosIsabel Santos, Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's human rights committee, speaks at the PA's Winter Meeting, 19 February 2015.COPENHAGEN, 16 April 2015 – The Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, Isabel Santos (MP, Portugal), today condemned the sentencing of Azerbaijani rights activist Rasul Jafarov to a lengthy prison term and called on the international community to recognize him as a prisoner of conscience.

"The past year has been a period of attack after attack by the authorities in Azerbaijan on the country's most prominent defenders of civil liberties, justice and clean governance. Today's sentencing follows a long history of official targeting of Mr. Jafarov, including trumped up charges, financial pressure and travel restrictions. It is high time for all of us to acknowledge that he is clearly a prisoner of conscience and, unfortunately, not alone as such in Azerbaijan today," Santos said.

The Baku Court on Grave Crimes sentenced Jafarov on 16 April to six and a half years in prison on charges including embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion. Jafarov denies the allegations against him and his lawyer has vowed to file an appeal.

Jafarov, an advocate for human rights and governmental accountability, was one of several activists who assisted Santos in organizing a side event on fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan at the OSCE PA's 2014 Annual Session in Baku. The event was attended by prominent Azerbaijani MPs, who actively engaged in discussion on the topics raised.

The OSCE PA's human rights Chair has submitted several requests to the Azerbaijani authorities to visit Jafarov, along with other detained rights defenders and journalists, but has received no response to date.

Santos reiterated her openness to dialogue with Azerbaijan on human rights and democracy-related issues.