COPENHAGEN, 28 May 2014 – Isabel Santos (MP, Portugal), the Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, today deplored the sentencing of rights defender Anar Mammadli by a Baku court to 5 ½ years in prison.

"The Azerbaijani government's systematic targeting of civil society has reached a new low with the sentencing of Anar Mammadli. I fear that Mr. Mammadli's only crime may have been his work to defend the rights of his country's voters. His conviction and sentencing represents an affront to OSCE values in the sphere of human rights and democratic commitments," Santos said.

Mammadli, the Chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDSC), was sentenced to jail this week for tax evasion, illegal business activities and using his office to falsify election results. Two of his associates, the Centre's executive director, Basir Suleymanli, and the director of the Union for International Cooperation of Volunteers, Elnur Mammadov, were also sentenced to prison terms.

The EMDSC is an established citizen election-observation group that has documented flaws in recent votes in Azerbaijan. It has faced multiple legal challenges concerning its registration and has reported frequent harassment by authorities in recent years.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Mammadli's detention adds to the concerning human rights backdrop for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Annual Session in Baku next month. I hope that our presence there will encourage the judicial system to take a hard look at its record on OSCE commitments and signal that these violations will not go unnoticed," Santos added.

The 23rd Annual Session of the OSCE PA will take place in the Azerbaijani capital from 28 June to 2 July 2014.

Mammadli was a key speaker at briefings for the OSCE PA's observation delegation in October 2013 on the eve of Azerbaijan's presidential election. The Centre's statement on that election noted extensive violations of fundamental freedoms and a range of other shortcomings in the electoral process, many of which were also observed and reported by the OSCE.

Mammadli's detention in December 2013 prevented him from attending a panel at the OSCE PA's Winter Meeting in Vienna this February on political prisoners in the OSCE area. His lawyer, Rashid Hajili, participated in his place.