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Why Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov went on hunger strike and stopped – reactions from the public, international community

Huseynov recently broke his fast by drinking milk

The case of Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov, who has been in prison for two years on charges of slandering the police, has caused a strong reaction both locally and internationally.

His term was supposed to come to an end in March 2019, but he was recently charged with assaulting a guard.

On 26 December he began a hunger strike in protest. He was supported by many in the community – there were street protests, and a number of people were arrested and fined.

On 7 January the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Miyatovic contacted Deputy Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Mahmud Mammadquliyev and spoke in defence of the blogger.

That evening, Huseynov’s lawyer reported he had stomach pains and, on the advice of a doctor, drank milk and other liquid dairy products.

Who is Mehman Huseynov?

Mehman Huseynov, 26, is the creator and presenter of a popular online video channel as well as the Sancak (Pin) Facebook page. He is also one of the founders of the human rights organization Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS). In his videos, he is critical of the authorities and their inexplicable wealth.

The blogger was detained by police for his journalistic activities, and later released. He told reporters afterwards that he had been tortured at the police department.

The head of the police station filed a suit against him on charges of slander, after which Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison.

The latest allegation, of the blogger beating prison guard Ali Abdalov, could lead to a new prison term for Mehman Huseynov – this time 6 or 7 years in prison. The blogger himself denies all charges.

The human rights organization Amnesty International has recognized Huseynov as a “prisoner of conscience”. Local human rights defenders included his name on the list of political prisoners in the country.

Protests

Journalists and political activists held two rallies in support of Huseynov on 3 and 6 January. Seven people were arrested and received three weeks of administrative arrest, while several others were fined.

However, there were few protesters and the police quickly dispersed them.

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The reaction of politicians

The Deputy Executive Secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, MP Siyavush Novruzov, said that the goal of the campaign in defense of Mehman Huseynov is to exert pressure on Azerbaijan, and that the activities of Huseynov himself are aimed at spreading negative information about the country and its people.

Several other MPs were of a similar opinion.

However, seven activists from the Musavat and the Azerbaijani Popular Front parties declared a hunger strike in solidarity with Huseynov.

Ilgar Mamedov, the leader of the Republican Alternative opposition party and a well-known opposition politician, is actively supporting the campaign in defense of Huseynov on social media. He himself until recently headed the list of Azerbaijani political prisoners.

Society’s reaction

The youth union of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) posted a caricature of Huseynov on its Facebook page, suggesting he had been eating all this time and that his hunger strike was a hoax.

This was in reaction to the fact that many social media users started using the hashtag #freeMehman in their messages – especially in comments posted on the official page of the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. Moderators, however, quickly remove them.

Photos of Ali Abdalov, the guard who accused Huseynov of attacking him, as well as his address and telephone number, have also appeared on social media. Many have called for him to be punished for laying down false charges against Huseynov.

On 8 January the heads of non-governmental organizations began visiting Huseynov in prison.

A special article was devoted to Huseynov by the Washington Post newspaper, which sharply criticized the authorities of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani rapper Jamal Ali, who lives in Berlin, dedicated a song to Huseynov in which he sarcastically appeals to the Vice President and First Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, asking her to “withdraw her pack”.

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