The mood in Baku was one of elation, as dozens of friends, colleagues, and supporters cheered in front of the house of Mammadov, who had spent more than 5 years in prison on bogus and politically motivated criminal charges. The Court order of 13 August reduced Mamamdov’s 7-year jail sentence to a suspended term of two years. While his conviction still stands and his freedoms would be curtailed by the authorities, including his freedom of movement, this is a moment to celebrate.
Norwegian Helsinki Committee, together with other partner human rights organizations, has strongly advocated and worked diligently for Mamamdov’s release in past several years.
Mammadov (48) leader of the pro-democracy opposition movement Republican Alternative (REAL) and one of the country’s few alternative voices, has been in jail since February 2013. Mammadov was accused of inciting violence and resisting police arrest. He was charged with inciting mass violence and resisting police during streets riots.
In March 2014, Mammadov was sentenced to 7 years in prison after a politically motivated trial that violated due process and other fair trial protections. From the very beginning, this case had nothing to do with justice and was solely about retaliation for Mammadov’s activism and criticism of the repressive government. The real reason for targeting Mammadov was obvious: His arrest came just few days after he announced plans to challenge the country’s authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev in the October 2013 presidential elections.
Norwegian Helsinki Committee supported the lawyers working on Mammadov’s case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, as it is impossible to obtain justice in Azerbaijan’s domestic courts, which is totally controlled by the ruling elite.
In May 2014 and November 2016, the European Court of Human Rights concluded, in a strongly worded judgments, that the actual purpose of Mammadov’s detention “was to silence or punish [him] for criticizing the Government.” However Azerbaijan defied the ECHR’s verdict: Mammadov remained behind bars – despite more than a dozen resolutions by the Council of Europe (CoE) requiring the Azerbaijani government to immediately release Mammadov and an inquiry launched by Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland into Azerbaijan’s failure to do so. To raise the stakes, in december 2017, Council of Europe (CoE) initiated unprecedented legal proceedings against Azerbaijan, which could eventually lead to sanctioning Azerbaijan, for example by suspending its voting rights in the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly.
While in prison, Mammadov has repeatedly been intimidated and has come under pressure from the authorities to apologize to President Aliyev in exchange for release. As Mammadov disagreed, he had twice been attacked in prison by prison officials for refusing to sign a letter of remorse to President Aliyev.
Other political prisoners in jail
According to NHC’s local partner human rights organizations in Azerbaijan, there are at least 140 political prisoners unjustly behind bars in country’s jails. Their freedom was unjustly taken away by the repressive regime in punishment for their activism. They include journalist and blogger Mehman Huseynov, serving a two-year prison sentence on charges of defaming a police station after he publicly described torture he endured there. There is also a prominent journalist Seymur Hazi who received Fritt Ord media award after being nominated by NHC. Hazi is now serving a five-year sentence on trumped-up hooliganism charges. And there is Afgan Mukhtarli, who was sentenced in January to six years on bogus charges. Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov, youth activists serving 10-year prison sentences for spraying political graffiti on the former president’s monument, are also still imprisoned. Gozel Bayramli, a senior women politician at opposition Popular Front Party (APFP), serves her 3 year prison term on politically motivated charges.
And the list goes on.
Releasing Mammadov is a positive step, but the reality is also that the government’s repressive policies that lead to his detention are still in place.
Fighting for democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan, Ilgar Mammadov has always spoken out on behalf of the political activists, human rights defenders, and journalists unjustly jailed in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani authorities need to realize that ruling by fear and disregarding international human rights standards is unacceptable and brings international condemnation. The government must end the crackdown on dissent and release those unjustly jailed without further delay.