Four demonstrators have been sentenced to three weeks in prison on charges of organising unauthorised gatherings. The demonstrators recently protested the launch of a new criminal case against well-known Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov.
Among the arrestees are two journalists and two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).
Another four participants were fined 300 to 400 manats (approximately 177 to 236 dollars).
Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike in protest against new charges of “attacking a prison guard” that are being levied against him.
Several dozen journalists and activists gathered on 3 January near the Neftchiler metro station on the outskirts of Baku, shouting “Freedom for Mehman!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”.
Five minutes later the police stopped the rally and detained 15 people.
Seven women were released at the police station, and the rest were taken to the Nizami District Court. Three other women were released there, and five men were left in custody until a court decision was made.
On 4 January the court sentenced journalist Afgan Sadigov to 22 days in prison, while journalist Nurlan Qahramanov and PFPA members Elmkhan Agayev and Sakhavat Nabiyev were sentenced to 21 days in prison.
Mehman Huseynov is an Azerbaijani video blogger who has actively criticised the wealth and corruption of certain officials.
In early 2017 he was detained by the police. After his release, Huseynov complained that the head of the police station had tortured him. He was again arrested and received two years in prison on charges of defamation.
Local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates have spoken out in his defence, considering him a victim of political repression.
On 26 December 2018, with just a few months of his prison term remaining, Huseynov was accused of attacking a prison officer. A new criminal case has now been filed against him. In response, the blogger has gone on hunger strike.
The Caucasian Knot writes that on 30 December his condition worsened, and at the insistence of his brother, agreed to drink water.
The head of the public relations department of the Prison Service, Mehman Sadiqov, stated that Huseynov was not on a hunger strike and that he had no health problems.
Huseynov’s father tried to meet with him in the detention facility, but was refused access. His lawyers are also unaware of his current condition.
Mehman Huseynov has received outspoken support from Reporters Without Borders.
Imprisoned Azerbaijani political blogger on hunger strike
A prominent Azerbaijani political blogger and activist is on a hunger strike after the authorities brought new charges against him shortly before he was to be released from a two-year prison term.
Mehman Huseynov, once Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 on charges that he defamed police officers who allegedly tortured him. He had been scheduled to be released in March 2019 but on December 26, prison authorities brought new charges against him.
Huseynov allegedly did not cooperate with an inspection in prison and attacked a guard, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov, according to a statement from the state prison service. “He physically resisted and injured Abdalov,” as well as “scattered and broke” items in an office in the prison, the statement said. The prison service also claimed that Huseynov had 461 manats (about $270) in his possession, which is against prison regulations. The new charges carry a potential prison term of up to seven years.
The day after the new charges were brought, Huseynov, 26, stopped eating and drinking, his family reported.
This is the third time in the last year that the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed new charges on a detained political activist, thus prolonging their terms. Similar punishments were meted out to a religious activist, Telman Shiraliyev, and a senior member of the opposition Popular Front Party, Mammad Ibrahim.
“The government’s repunishments are the result of their understanding that they will never control [Huseynov] by imprisonment,” said Jamil Hasanli, an Azerbaijani historian and political activist, in a Facebook post. “The government does not want to forgive this young blogger for exposing their corruption.”
“We were expecting this kind of provocation against Mehman. He was warned that he would not be released in March,” his brother, Emin Huseynov – also a political activist, living in exile in Switzerland – told the news agency Turan. “The charges are nonsense. Who believes someone can beat prison officer while being under arrest?”
Emin Huseynov said that his brother was being punished for statements he made at his mother’s funeral in August: “Breaking me down is possible only with death. Today I have lost my mother. If they release me alive from jail, I will double my activities.”
Emin Huseynov said that Mehman started drinking water again after four days at the insistence of his family, though he continues to refuse food. His family and fellow activists say his health has dramatically deteriorated.
“Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate,” press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said in a December 31 statement.
Prison authorities have claimed that Huseynov is not in fact on a hunger strike. “Mehman Huseynov is having food and water. He keeps contact with his family by telephone. He is not conducting a hunger strike. His health is also normal, and he enjoys all the rights he is allowed under the law,” said Mehman Sadigov, a prison service spokesman.
On January 3, a group of activists held a rally in Baku demanding the Huseynov’s release, with posters depicting Huseynov and chanting “Freedom to Mehman.” Ten of the activists were detained by police.
Lamiya Adilgizi is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist.
Senator Marco Rubio Calls for Immediate Release of Mehman Huseynov
US Senator Marco Rubio called on official Baku to immediately release blogger Mehman Huseynov.
“Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov remains imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Now he is in a critical situation due to a hunger strike. The government of Azerbaijan should release him immediately,” the senator wrote in his blog on Twitter.
Recall that Huseynov continues his hunger strike for the 10th day in connection with a new case brought against him about alleged resistance to the warden in the prison, where he is serving a two-year term on defamation charges against the police
A jailed blogger in Azerbaijan is on a hunger strike to fight bogus charges. He must be freed.
MEHMAN HUSEYNOV is a blogger, an activist for a free press and a journalist who has exposed uncomfortable truths about the rulers of Azerbaijan, including official corruption and police brutality. For almost two years, he has been imprisoned on bogus charges. As the end of his term approaches, the Azerbaijani police state has cooked up new charges to keep him in jail five to seven more years. Mr. Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike to protest. He must be freed and this travesty ended.
Behind the new persecution lies the grinding reality of Azeribaijan’s persecution of dissidents and journalists under the despot Ilham Aliyev. According to human rights groups, Mr. Aliyev’s jails hold 150 political prisoners, including 10 journalists. The release of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova in 2016 was not the end of this danger for those who speak the truth to power in Azerbaijan. Lately, Ms. Ismayilova has come under renewed harassment as well.
Mr. Huseynov used Facebook and YouTube effectively to hold Azerbaijan’s rulers to account. Among his probing and revelatory reports, in late 2016 he posted videos showing that while ordinary Azerbaijanis were hurting economically, government ministers were building themselves opulent palaces. He was detainedJan. 9, 2017, and the next day told a judge that police had beaten him in the station, put a plastic bag over his head and used a stun gun, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Ms. Ismayilova said his face was bruised and his shirt was covered in blood when he was released from the courthouse that day. Instead of an investigation into his treatment, which a judge ordered, Mr. Huseynov was prosecuted for “defamation” of the same police station that had tormented him. He was sentenced to two years in prison. He has been there since March 3, 2017.
Now the Azeri authorities have leveled new charges, claiming that Huseynov violently attacked a prison official. These allegations are vague, undocumented and probably as weighty as the first. The real purpose is to silence Mr. Huseynov so he won’t expose the lavish villas of the Azerbaijani ministers or testify against the brutality of the police. Mr. Huseynov went on hunger strike without food or water, and his health is deteriorating.
Mr. Aliyev must think no one will bother to call out his brutish behavior. An experienced career Foreign Service officer, Earle D. Litzenberger, has just been confirmed as U.S. ambassador. He declared in his confirmation hearing that “democracies thrive only when bolstered by an independent judiciary, respect for the rule of law, a free media, a vibrant civil society, pluralism, democratic electoral processes, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” As a first act in his new position, the ambassador should read this list out loud to Mr. Aliyev and insist that Mr. Huseynov be freed.