10 May in Azerbaijan is Flower Day, an unofficial holiday celebrating the birth of the late President Heydar Aliyev. (Today would have been his 95th birthday.) But since 2016, many Azerbaijanis associate this day with the arrest of two young activists who are now languishing in prison.
Exactly two years ago, Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov were arrested for graffiti on a statue of late President Heydar Aliyev, father of the current President Ilham Aliyev. Replacing the Azerbaijani word ‘flower’ (gül) with the word ‘slave’ (qul), they had written “Happy Slave Day!” (Qul bayramınız mübarək!) along with the anarchist slogan “F*** the system!” in English. Both youths were charged with drug dealing and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where they remain today.
Mammadov and Ibrahimov deny the drug charges and claim that their testimony was given under torture, an accusation which Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and the ombudsman’s office reject.
The US State Department and the European Union have expressed concern about the case and called on Azerbaijan to review the convictions. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the immediate release of Mammadov and Ibrahimov.
The day that the two young activists were arrested was also the fortieth day after the death of several Azerbaijani soldiers in the “Four Day War” in Karabakh. Since then, Flower Day celebrations have been more low-key than in the past. Today, for example, President Ilham Aliyev and his family marked his father’s birthday with a tree-planting ceremony.