|Known for||political activism, 2011 imprisonment|
|Political party||Azerbaijan Popular Front Party|
Jabbar Savalan (born c. 1991) is an Azerbaijani blogger and political activist. On 4 May 2011, he was sentenced to two and half years in prison on charges of dealing drugs. The Azerbaijani government defended the ruling, but the European parliament and several human rights groups such as Amnesty International alleged the charges were fabricated and part of a pattern of framing government dissidents to silence them. He received a presidential pardon on 26 December 2011.
Involvement in protests
A student at Sumgait State University, Savalan became active in the youth wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP), the nation's primary opposition party to the continued rule of President Ilham Aliyev, son of previous president Heydar Aliyev. With this group, he participated in an anti-government rally on 20 January; he also re-posted on Facebook an article from a Turkish newspaper that had criticized the president.
On 4 February 2011, he posted on Facebook calling for a "Day of Rage" emulating recent pro-democracy protests in Egypt and Syria. He urged citizens to join in protesting in Freedom Square in Baku, the nation's capital.
Arrest and trial
The following day, 5 February, he was arrested returning from an APFP meeting in the city of Sumgayit. The police had allegedly searched his home in his absence. Savalan was taken to the police station, where he was searched. The police officer conducting the search then allegedly found 0.74 grams of marijuana in the pocket of his coat, and Savalan was booked on charges of "possessing narcotics with an intent to supply". Savalan then signed a confession which he later retracted, alleging that he had signed it only in the face of police pressure; his lawyer was not allowed to see him until two days after his arrest. On 7 February, a judge ordered him two months of pre-trial detention.
At Savalan's trial, he claimed the drugs were placed on him by police officers. A blood test showed that he had not recently used drugs, and his friends and family testified that he had no history of drug use. One friend reportedly told Amnesty International, "Jabbar is not a smoker and doesn't drink alcohol at all – there is no way he would be a drug user." However, he was convicted on the basis of his confession, and sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment. He was twenty years old at the time of his sentencing.
Savalan's lawyer, Anar Gasimov, alleged that following the trial, one of the police officers had approached and threatened him, stating, "I know where you live. We will see what I will do for you." People protesting the verdict were reportedly violently dispersed by police forces.
Savalan's appeal to Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court was rejected on 29 November 2011.
Amnesty International described the charges against Savalan as "trumped up", stating its belief that the accusation formed part of a pattern of "similar cases where drugs have been found on prominent critics of the government, such as Eynulla Fatullayev and Sakit Zahidov". The organization named him a prisoner of conscience. The organization selected Savalan's case for their 2011 Letter-Writing Marathon, which reportedly generated more than one million appeals on behalf of prisoners.
His arrest was also protested by the human rights organizations Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. Human Rights Watch described the government's actions as a "fresh example of the government's efforts to silence critical voices" and "blatant repression", urging that Savalan be released immediately.
On 12 May 2011, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning Azerbaijani "human rights violations" and "oppression of opposition forces". The resolution mentioned concern for Savalan's case by name, noting that he had apparently been "targeted for using Facebook to call for demonstrations against the government" and that "serious doubts" existed regarding the fairness of his drug trial.
Savalan was freed from prison following a pardon by President Ilham Aliyev on 26 December 2011. Following his release, Savalan stated that "It feels good to be with my friends again. I feel good now that I can spend time with them and my family." Amnesty International issued a statement welcoming Savalan's release but calling for his conviction to also be overturned.
Involvement in 2012 protests
On 6 March 2012, Savalan and three other youth activists were reportedly beaten by Baku police officers during a protest, prompting the Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists to protest on their behalf in an advocacy letter. In early May, Savalan was conscripted into the army despite being exempt from military service, leading Amnesty International to state concern that he "was targeted for his peaceful activism".
- Samira Ahmedbeyli (15 February 2011). "Calls for Release of Azeri Facebook Activist". Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- Amnesty USA - Jabbar Savalan Freed!
- Haley Sweetland Edwards (March 2011). "AZERBAIJAN: More than 200 anti-government protesters arrested". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "Azerbaijan must stop harassment of activists inspired by Egypt protests". Amnesty International. 12 February 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "Azeri activist sentenced to 2.5 years in jail, government stifles critics". Amnesty International. 8 May 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "AZERBAIJAN ACTIVIST CONVICTED ON 'TRUMPED UP' DRUGS CHARGE". Amnesty International. 4 May 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "Facebook Activist has Appeal Rejected" (PDF). Amnesty International. 19 November 2011. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
- "Azerbaijan: Government Stifling Critics". Human Rights Watch. 4 May 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "European Parliament resolution of 12 May 2011 on Azerbaijan". European Parliament. 12 May 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- "Azerbaijan: Index Calls on President to Investigate Brutal Attack on Journalist". Index on Censorship. 25 April 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- "Azerbaijan: Opposition activist freed as pre-Eurovision hunger strike begins". Amnesty International. 16 May 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2012.