The General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan has dropped the new charges against Mehman Huseynov according to an official statement made on 22. January. He was convicted and jailed in 2017. Just two months before release he was facing new charges that could add seven years to his sentence, if convicted.
Massive campaign #FreeMehman was mobilised both by international human rights groups and local activists. Also, the European Parliament made a resolution voicing concern over new charges and calling for Huseynov’s immediate release. The efforts resulted in a rare U-turn by Azerbaijani authorities.
“The news that the new charges were dropped is a relief, and it also shows that civil society’s solidarity and international attention can make a difference”, says Olga Shamshur Flydal, Senior Adviser at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Intervention from the President
The statement from the General Prosecutor’s Office reads that they’re acting on the recommendations of the of the President Ilham Aliev. They also site Mehman Huseynov’s youth, family situation and good behaviour in prison as arguments for dropping charges. Still, many view the #FreeMehman campaign and international pressure as having played a vital role.
“Dropping charges is not a sign of an improving climate in the country. The situation for independent media and other regime critics, continue to be alarming”, says Olga Shamshur Flydal.
It shows that civil society’s solidarity and international attention can make a difference
Olga Shamshur Flydal
Police violence is a systematic and well-documented problem in Azerbaijan. Yet, Huseynov is far from the only journalist in Azerbaijan to be targeted for their critical work and seeking justice in this problematic field. Regardless, his case has become a symbol of the government’s harsh crackdown on human rights defenders, political activists, and journalists.
Risking seven additional years in prison
A group of plain-clothes officers attacked Huseynov in January 2017, “blindfolded and gagged him with towels, forced a bag over his head and took him to the police station. The police used an electroshock weapon on his groin, and punched him, bloodying his nose”.
The next day, officers took him before a court that found him guilty of disobeying police orders and fined him. While authorities refused to conduct a credible investigation into Huseynov’s torture allegations, the district police chief brought a criminal lawsuit against him for defamation. In March 2017, a Baku court sentenced him to two years in prison on charges of defaming the police station. Just two months before release, Huseynov is faced the possibility of an additional seven-year sentence, as he was accused of attacking a prison guard in an attempt to avoid a routine check on 26 December.
“This and similar cases are emerging as the new tactics in dealing with dangerous critics. Instead of releasing political prisoners and then spending time assembling a new case, the authorities extend their existing prison sentence on any given pretext”, says Olga Shamshur Flydal, senior adviser at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Read more about political prisoners at https://nopoliticalprisoners.org/