Many more remain behind bars
On 16 March, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree pardoning more than four hundred prisoners who had their sentences reduced or were released the following day. Of these, 51 are recognized as political prisoners.
The decree came after pervasive pressure from human rights groups and international campaigns, demanding the release of the many political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
Among these are the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s “No Political Prisoners” campaign which urges for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, and for an end to the practice of politically motivated arrests in Azerbaijan.
“We are happy for these unusually good news coming from Azerbaijan about the release of so many political prisoners. Norwegian Helsinki Committee is also very grateful to those who supported the No Political Prisoners campaign”, says Olga Shamshur Flydal, senior adviser at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC).
The decision was taken after appeals from the prisoners, their families, and many members of the Azerbaijani civil society. In addition, the prisoners’ health and family situation as well as their behaviour and qualities were also mentioned among the reasons behind the pardoning.
The 51 newly released are journalists and critical voices, activists, opposition leaders, previous government officials and social protesters. Some of them are:
Rashad Ramazanov — scholar, critic of the government on social media was released after 2,138 days of unlawful imprisonment.
Ali Insanov — former Health Minister, later government critic has been released from prison after more than 13 years and six months of imprisonment. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2013 that Insanov’s right to free trial was violated by the authorities.
Giyas İbrahimov — youth activist, member of N!DA Civic Movement, arrested and sentenced to 10 years with spurious drug charges for painting political graffiti on the monument of the late President of Azerbaijan. Giyas was released after 1,041 days of unlawful imprisonment.
Nijat Aliyev — journalist, editor-in-chief of Azadxeber news agency has been released after 2,492 days of unlawful imprisonment.
Among the pardoned were at least nine men arrested in 2015, during a violent police raid in Nardaran, a Baku suburb known for its Shia religious conservatism and criticism of government policies.
The 72 remaining
Several of those who just got their freedom back still say that they will not let their recent imprisonment stop them from continuing their activism and their work. Shamshur Flydal says:
“The recent mass-release of political prisoners is without a doubt a step in the right direction. We urge the Azerbaijan authorities to release the remaining 72 and stop the practice of political prosecution and imprisonment of oppositional and critical voices in the country.”
Those still behind bars or in penal colonies include journalists, opposition activists, the nominal head of the “Dadashbayli group” and religious scholar Baghirzade and his fellows who were charged with unlawful terrorist actions.
Journalists still in prison or penal colony:
Opposition activists still in prison or penal colony:
Others still in prison or penal colony:
The government’s harsh crackdown
In March 2017, a Baku court sentenced Azerbaijani journalist Mehman Huseynov to two years in prison on charges of defaming an entire police station, after he gave a statement in front of the courthouse in which he described the abuses he had suffered at that police station.
Just two months before release he was facing new charges that could add seven years to his sentence, if convicted. Luckily the charges were dropped. His case has become a symbol of the government’s harsh crackdown on human rights defenders, political activists, and journalists.
Norwegian Helsinki Committee,
25 March 2019
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee bases its work on the Helsinki Declaration, which states that respect for human rights is crucial for maintaining peace and cooperation between States.