The SRF current affairs programme Rundschau reported that the 35-year-old critic of President Ilham Aljiev’s regime sought refuge in the embassy because he feared for his life.Switzerland has guaranteed Huseynov protection “for humanitarian reasons“, the Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement delivered to Rundschau.“We have been discussing the matter with Azeri government and officials ever since, in order to find a solution,“ it added.The Swiss government has been negotiating at the highest level possible with Azerbaijan, but the Azerbaijan government has been against letting Emin Huzeynov leave the country.Last year was particularly difficult for free speech advocates in the former Soviet republic. The oil-rich Azeri government escalated its repression against its critics in 2014, with a dramatic deterioration in its already poor rights record.The Swiss embassy building in the Old City of Baku is approachable directly from the street, one of the reasons it was chosen by Huseymov last August when he was facing imminent arrest, according to Rundschau investigative journalist Serena Tinari.Huseymov is the founder of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a non-governmental organisation fighting for press freedom and journalists‘ safety in Azerbaijan.But Huseymov also had Swiss connections. As part of his pro-democracy activities, he attended an OSCE conference on human rights in the Swiss capital Bern last year, where he met then Swiss president Didier Burkhalter. The journalist had met Burkhalter once before when the Swiss president was on a state visit to Baku.
Florian Irminger of the Geneva-based Human Rights House Foundation, has been following Huseynov’s case. He told Rundschau that the journalist was arrested in 2008 and 2009 and suffered beatings that amounted to torture.
In one of Huseynov’s last public interviews before going into hiding he expressed pessimism with life under the regime: “We have no positive perspectives for the future. Repression against the freedom of opinion is continuing, including the online media.“
An other leading investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was arrested on 5 December on a trumped-up charge of inciting a former colleague to commit suicide. Her only crime has been having the courage to investigate a subject that is completely off-limits in Azerbaijan – corruption at the highest level of government.