The authorities have decided to drop newly levered charges against Huseynov – why, and what does the move mean?
Imprisoned blogger Mehman Huseynov will be released from prison at the end of his two year term, as the recently-launched case against him has been dropped after the intervention of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
Up until today, Huseynov was on hunger strike in protest of the new charge levied against him – that of attacking a prison guard. He had been on hunger strike for nearly a month, causing a wave of protest in society and the intervention of international organizations, and a European Parliament resolution demanding the release of all political prisoners and an unusually massive opposition rally.
On 21 January, Huseynov appealed to President Ilham Aliyev with a request to “ensure an objective and fair investigation of his case”. Aliyev responded accordingly.
Within hours, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced that the new charge against Huseynov had been dropped.
Who is Mehman Huseynov?
Twenty-six-year-old Mehman Huseynov is a popular video blogger in Azerbaijan. In his videos, he is critical of the authorities and corrupt officials.
Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison back in March 2017 on charges of libel against the head of the district police department in Baku, when Huseynov said that he had been tortured at a police station.
The human rights organization Amnesty International later recognized Huseynov as a “prisoner of conscience”.
The term of Huseynov’s imprisonment expires in March of this year, but at the end of December he was charged with beating a security guard, for which he could have served seven more years in prison. He went on a hunger strike in protest.
The prosecutor general said in a statement that:
“Taking into account Huseynov’s age and his [good behaviour] while serving his sentence … and also considering his elderly and lonely father who needs care, and the fact that the crime committed by Huseynov is not very serious and does not pose a danger to society, the criminal case against Mehman Huseynov has been dismissed.”
In other words, the prosecutor’s office did not rescind its statement that Huseynov had beaten a prison guard, but simply decided to ‘have pity’ on him.
Such a turn in Huseynov’s case has caused not only joy in Azerbaijani society, but controversy as well, given that the standoff between opposition-minded citizens and the authorities was the largest of the past few years.
What does this denouement mean?
On one hand, it would seem that the demands and outrage of the public have been heard.
On the other, the accusation against Huseynov has not been dropped – he has simply been shown “mercy” and “been forgiven”.
Here is what different parties to the conflict think and say on the matter:
Khadija Ismayilova, a journalist who went on hunger strike for five days in solidarity with Huseynov:
“Friends, this is not a victory. Mehman and 128 other political prisoners are still in prison. The president could free them all and emerge the victor, and we would still be the losers. Let’s continue the protest!”
The head of the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Eldar Sultanov:
“The President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, adhering, as always, to the principles of justice and humanism, took into account [the] appeals and recommended that the Attorney General of the Republic of Azerbaijan conduct an objective investigation into the criminal case, to take all measures provided by the law to make a fair and humane decision.”
Tofig Yaqublu, a Musavat Party member who was on hunger strike in solidarity with Huseynov for 13 days:
“We were able to force Ilham Aliyev to stop a new fabricated case against Mehman Huseynov, launched personally on his instructions. This is the first small victory. In this way he wants to assuage those who are going to come to the rally on 26 January. [But it] will not work! In conclusion, many people have been convicted on false charges. They must all be released! Come to the rally on 26 January.”
The reaction on social media
For almost a month, the fate of Huseynov has worried many on Azerbaijani social media: some have fiercely supported him, others coolly followed the developments. The news that the charge was dropped caused a number of responses:
“It is a shame for the country if the court and investigation follow the instructions of the president. The president does not have such powers… If he is so kind, why does he not apply his kindness to the other political prisoners?”
“Problems are quickly solved when people unite. They stunned the authorities.”
“Who will be punished for the fabricated criminal case?”
“And what was that? Some show!”
“Thanks to the people and the European Parliament. The state, in order not to dishonour itself, has decided to let [the matter] go. Together we are strong!”
“I do not think this is a victory for Mehman. Now he is unlikely to stick to his anti-government stance.”
Chronology of events concerning Mehman Huseynov
- 26 December – Huseynov goes on a hunger strike, demanding that the new charges against him be dropped.
- 3 and 6 January – Two unauthorized rallies were held in support of Huseynov; many participants sentenced to twenty days in prison or fined.
- 5 January – Activists of various opposition parties went on hunger strike in the offices of the Musavat Party in a show of solidarity with Huseynov.
- 7 January – Huseynov’s attorney reported that Huseynov was continuing his hunger strike, but has consumed a small amount of dairy products.
- 7 January – MP Siyavush Novruzov says that Huseynov committed a crime and should be punished.
- 10 January – A handwritten message appeared in the press in which Huseynov says that he did not want to create commotion around himself and that his health was normal.
- 11 January – An EU representative in Azerbaijan and the staff of the embassies of European countries visited Huseynov.
- 14 January – Five political prisoners announced a hunger strike in solidarity with Huseynov.
- 15 January – Well-known journalist Khadija Ismailova joins the hunger strike.
- 16 January – Some opposition figures stop their hunger strike, others take their place.
- 17 January – The blogger’s brother, human rights activist Emin Huseynov who lives in Switzerland, sent an open letter to the members of the European Parliament asking them to vote to save his brother and other political prisoners.
On the evening of 17 January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding that the Azerbaijani authorities “immediately release Mehman Huseynov and drop the new charges made against him”.
On 19 January, a large scale rally took place in support of Huseynov and other political prisoners.