Shahla Humbatova: "They Will Not Silence Me"

Washington D.C. / 03.05.20 / Turan:  Defense lawyer Shahla Humbatova, the first ever Azerbaijani recipient of International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award, shared her feelings after being honored at the U.S. State Department. in an interview with Turan’s Washington correspondent Alex Raufoglu.

Question: You looked excited and proud, as well as - correct me, if I'm wrong - somewhat disappointed at the ceremony. What are you feelings?

Answer: I was very disappointed that our ambassador [Elin Suleymanov] did not attend the ceremony. He was invited and promised to come. I don’t know why he didn’t come.

Question: Disappointed because you were expecting him to come?

Answer: Actually, I would be surprised if he came. But when I saw that the ambassadors of other countries attended the ceremony, I felt somewhat abandoned.

Question: The U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan was present at the ceremony thoough.

Answer: Yes, Mr. Ambassador [Lee Litzenberger] specially came here to support me. I was very proud of it.

Question: As far as I know, Ambassador Litzenberger has been in Washington for several days now to participate in another event. Did you have an opportunity to meet him in person?

Answer: Yes, I spoke with Mr. Ambassador here, and felt that I was not alone here.

Question:  Could Azerbaijani Ambassador's absence be in connection with your relations with the authorities in Baku?

Answer: I think so, but these kind of events do not happen very often. The representative of Azerbaijan was awarded with IWOC for the first time. I think that purely for the sake of etiquette, the support of the representative of his country, Mr. Ambassador could come, but apparently the decision was political. Our business was to invite...

Question: I watched you from the audience. You felt excited. I even noticed that the First Lady Melania Trump at some point whispered into your ear...

Answer: In the morning I was excited until I received the award ... In general, I was not very knowledgeable about this award until recently. The award was a big surprise for me. So, I did some research and realized that this was apparently a very honorable award, therefore my excitement was even greater. The ceremony with the participation of dignitaries was organized in a special protocol. There were rehearsals, and we carefully prepared for each stage.

Question: It attracted attention that you were placed right next to the First Lady. Why was that, exactly?

Answer: Yes, they told me that my place was there.

Question: But there were 11 other women among the recipients...

Answer: I do not know the reason for this. On the eve of the rehearsal, I saw with pleasure that my name was written on the spot with Mrs. Trump...

Question: In other words, did you feel special attention and sympathy for your case?

Answer: This is very pleasant for me. Probably, the protocol procedures were drawn up in alphabetical order or taking into account other factors. However, in any case, it was very pleasant for me.  Even before the ceremony, when photographing with Secretary of State Pompeo, I stood right next to his wife. Such attention is of course very nice. I think this is a special merit of the US Ambassador to Baku, Mr. Litzenberger.

Question: The news about your award literally blew up social media in Azerbaijan. I carefully reviewed the Facebook posts and almost everyone was mentioning the name of Anar Bagirov.

Answer: Yes, this is the chairman of the Bar Association.

Question: What does he have to do with your award?

Answer: He made a “special contribution” to me receiving this award (laughs) and I must “thank him”. He played an exceptional role in bringing the bar to a similar state. Anar Bagirov punished me for the activity for which I was awarded today. For they punish for human rights activities in Azerbaijan, and award in democracies.

Question: So, today's event can be called a triumph of justice?

Answer: The world will not only come from our country. And here, in another part of the world, human rights are a value, and those who devote their lives to this are also valued.

Question: In the course of communication with us, one of the U.S. officials called your courage an example for future generations...

Answer: Honestly, here I heard a lot of nice words. But this seems strange, since there are many people like me in Azerbaijan. Maybe this is a reality arising from the situation - there is a need for brave people, and there are many of us. I talked here with a translator from Tunisia. She said that in her country women's rights are ensured at a high level. But from Tunisia no woman has ever been awarded. I believe that they  simply do not need to be brave. In our country, there is a need for this. In fact, I do not see this as courage, and it simply follows from the need to be responsible. That is, a citizen if he is a lawyer, then as a lawyer, if a journalist, then how a journalist feels his responsibility and does what he considers right.

Question: Along with you 11 other women were also honored with IWOC awards. Did you have a chance discuss your shared values and stories with them and if so, could you say they suffered a fate similar to you?

Answer: This is a very important question. From the first day of our acquaintance, everyone told a story. The geography of the laureates is wide - African countries, Arab countries, China (female Uyghur-Kazakh), Azerbaijan and Armenia. When stories were heard about us, it seemed to me that I had known them all for a long time. That is, we all do common work, share common values, and fight. Among us there are former political prisoners. Listening to them, I recalled the fate of the people I defended. So sad were the stories that when we met in the first, everyone cried.

Question: Do officials in Washington know what happened to you in Baku?

Answer: According to my observations, specialists in the region are very well informed about what is happening and are closely coordinating among themselves. During the meetings, I did not even have time to fully express the opinion, as they themselves spoke about everything. This, frankly, surprised me.

Question: First Lady Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo were all around you during the photo shoots at the ceremony. Can you imagine ever having the opportunity to take pictures with officials in the same positions in Azerbaijan?

Answer: Probably, in the current situation this is not real... Imagine that among us there was also a femail journalist from Armenia - Lucy Kocharian, along with me received an award today. In order to support her, the first lady of Armenia, the ambassador of Armenia to the United States and several other people were precent here. During the ceremony, they were next to her, supported. See the difference?

Question: How will the IWOC award affect your future activities?

Answer: My situation is clear. There is a decision to expel me from the Bar Association and the case has already been sent to court. The first meeting will be held in April. There are no expectations. For I know well the state of justice, as well as the goals of the leadership of the College. But, if I am not a member of the Bar, this does not mean that I will cease activity and step aside. On the contrary, it will inspire me even more. To protect human rights, justice does not have to be a lawyer. It is enough to feel the importance of this.

Question: Your courage is seen and heard. It is also being called a role model for the future generation...

Answer: This award is provided purely for women. Indeed, there are very brave women in Azerbaijan, especially among the young. On March 8, they will march in defense of women's rights. And last year they did it... It is enough to follow the news on women's rights and domestic violence, in order to understand the scale of the work to be carried out in our country. It comforts me that we have so many courageous women walking at the forefront of the struggle. I am proud of them and want to tell them all: "Look at me." -25-


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