Azerbaijan: Free prominent political activist

The life of the Azerbaijani political prisoner Tofiq Yagablu is in danger. We call on international organizations and foreign governments to follow the case closely and urge his immediate release.

UPDATE 18 SEPTEMBER: Baku Appeals Court has released Tofig Yagublu. He was conditionally released after the court converted the restraint measure to home arrest until 28 September.

A court in Baku on September 3 sentenced Tofig Yagublu, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party and a longstanding political opponent of the President Ilham Aliyev, to 4 years and three months in prison following the unfair and absurd judicial process. Yagublu, 59, has been in custody since his arrest on March 22, 2020 on politically motivated and bogus charges of hooliganism.

To protest his wrongful conviction, he is currently on hunger strike.

Yagublu, a former political prisoner, is highly respected activist and one of the top opposition politicians, who was often vocal on grave ongoing human rights violations in Azerbaijan. He is the deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party and a senior politician in the National Council of Democratic Forces. Yagublu, whom Amnesty international has recognized prisoner of conscience, was one of the recipients of the NHC’s Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award in 2014, and was portrayed in our “Drawing for Freedom” campaign in 2015-16. Jailing him is yet another demonstration of the lack of respect for rule of law and human rights in Azerbaijan.

“Yagublu has no place in a prison. The case is based on fabricated evidence, politically motivated and aimed at stifling a prominent critical voice in Azerbaijan. The officials who fabricated the case against him should be held to account”, says Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal, acting secretary general at the NHC

Yagublu has no place in a prison.

Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal, acting secretary general at the NHC

“We urge the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him and stop his persecution as we believe that he is being punished solely in retaliation for his legitimate and peaceful activism”, says Ekeløve-Slydal.

The charges against Yagublu stem from a traffic accident, that he and rights groups say was a setup and staged to be used for the bogus case. His arrest took place few days after President Ilham Aliyev, in his first speech addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, implied he would use the fight against the virus to crack down on the country’s political opposition. Yagublu’s conviction is the latest in the government’s relentless campaign to imprison its critics in past months.

The guilty verdict against Yagublu is a gross injustice to him and a disgrace to the Azerbaijan criminal justice system. Similar trumped-up charges have previously led to several years’ imprisonment for political activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists in Azerbaijan. Framing people for hooliganism has become an increasingly frequent tactic used by Azerbaijani authorities to punish their critics.

It’s not the first time that the authorities have imprisoned Yagublu on politically motivated charges. In recent years, Yagublu has received numerous threats and jail terms and subjected to torture aimed at making him quit his peaceful political activism. He spent three years behind bars on false incitement charges, and following his release in 2016, he was arrested again and has been subjected to torture in October 2019 after participating in an unsanctioned anti-government demonstration.

Yagublu’s life and safety are in jeopardy as he is on 13th day of hunger strike. After his health worsened in prison, authorities transferred him to a clinic in Baku on Saturday.

We call on international organizations and foreign governments, including the Norwegian government to follow the hunger-striking Yagublu’s case closely and urge his immediate release. Azerbaijan must abide by its international human rights obligations, including its commitments before the Council of Europe, and end political retaliation against Yagublu and other wrongfully imprisoned critics.

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Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal

Deputy Secretary GeneralEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 95 21 03 07Twitter: @GunnarEkelveSly
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