Expected mass pardoning in Azerbaijan leads to disappointment
The long-awaited mass pardoning of prisoners, devoted to the 100th anniversary of the First Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, has caused deep disappointment. Despite the fact that President Aliyev had already pardoned 634 prisoners, the current list includes the names of only twelve of more than 140 political prisoners. Moreover, according to human rights activists, the term of imprisonment for many of them was coming to an end as well.
The pardoning was announced in parliament at the beginning of the year by several leaders of the ruling party such as Siyavush Novruzov, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Yeni (New) Azerbaijan Party who called for the release of the prisoners who had fought in Karabakh and ‘young activists who had fallen under the bad influence of the opposition’.
Novella Jafaroglu, a famoust Azeri human rights defender and chairperson of the Society for the Protection of Women’s Rights said:
“We are confident that soon there will not be a single political prisoner in Azerbaijan.”
However, the pardoning did not apply to:
- Veterans of the Karabakh war and former soldiers of the Special Police Force (sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged coup attempts);
- The leader of the opposition Republican Alternative Party Ilgar Mammadov (convicted for seven years on charges of organizing mass riots);
- The ‘prisoners of the monument’ – youth activists who wrote political slogans on the Heydar Aliyev monument. Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov were sentenced to 10 years on charges of distributing drugs;
- investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarly, convicted for six years on charges of smuggling and illegal border crossing;
- The People’s Front opposition party deputy Gyozal Bayramli, convicted for four years on charges of smuggling;
- Many other well-known convicts who were included in the lists of political prisoners of human rights organizations.
The pardoned political prisoners were mainly religious activists who were convicted for organizing riots in the village of Nardaran and ‘hijab prisoners’ who protested against the ban on wearing hijabs in schools.
Elnur Farajev, an activist with the People’s Front Party of Azerbaijan who had been serving a sentence since May 2017 on charges of drug trafficking, and Sadai Shekerly, a writer suffering diabetes, who was convicted in December 2015 on charges of extortion, through threats, were also released.
Many human rights defenders openly show their frustration with the low number of pardoned people. Ogtay Gulaliyev, the Coordinator of the Center for the Protection of Political Prisoners, told a Caucasian Knot correspondent that ‘about one hundred and fifty political prisoners on our list still remain imprisoned’.
He added that the authorities have not shown political will to solve the problem of political prisoners.
“Throughout the entire campaign for the early presidential elections, an illusion of preparing a ‘big pardon’ was created. The commission on pardons met periodically and some ‘leaks’ were made that the government would solve the problem of political prisoners once and for all in order to put an end to international criticism. And today it turns out that all this was a lie. For four out of the 12 political prisoners who were pardoned, only a week was left until the end of their sentence,” the Caucasian Knot quoted Gyulaliyev as saying.