Only 8 out of 182 political prisoners in Azerbaijan pardoned
President signs pardon order
The pardon order, signed by the head of state before the hundredth birthday celebration of Azerbaijan president Heydar Aliyev, covered more than 800 people. But since there are very few political prisoners among those pardoned, human rights activists do not consider it right to call this an act of “humanitarianism”.
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801 people pardoned
On May 8, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed a pardon order. According to the document, 801 convicts were pardoned, of whom 463 people were released from custody, 220 people were released from half of the unserved part of prison time, 118 people were released from other punishments not related to imprisonment (restriction of liberty, corrective labor, fines and probation).
It was known in advance that there would be a pardon. Human rights activists expected the release of many political prisoners, including riot policemen Elchin Amiraslanov, Safa Poladov, and Arif Kazymov, who were sentenced to life imprisonment and have been in prison for 27 years on charges of attempting a coup d’état and a number of other crimes.
But their names were not included on the pardon list. In general very few political prisoners were pardoned. Among them are the leader of the Citizenship and Development party Ali Aliyev, human rights activist Elchin Mammad from Sumgayit, four people convicted in the Terter case, Nusrat Gurbanov, Vagif Aliyev, Hajiyev Suleyman, Seymur Hasanov, and two accused in the Ganja case, Samir Ibragimov and Khabib Gurbanov.
“This amnesty did not solve the problem of political prisoners, and it cannot be called an act of humanity,” Rufat Safarov, leader of the human rights organization Line of Defense, said.
Corrupt officials on the loose
The head of state also pardoned former Deputy Minister of Culture Rafik Bayramov and former officers of the Ministry of National Security Azer Mehdiyev and Zaur Mehdiyev, who were arrested for corruption, extortion and blackmail.
“Do you know who was pardoned? For example, Deputy Minister of Culture Rafik Bayramov, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, but also Minister Abulfaz Garayev had to be arrested.
Look, we live in a society that has been full of political prisoners for 30 years, but we see the names of corrupt officials on the amnesty lists,” journalist Natig Javadli wrote on Facebook.
89 people arrested for political reasons in two months
In April of this year, the “Freedom for Azerbaijani Political Prisoners” association published a new list of political prisoners consisting of 182 people.
The list of political prisoners published by the same organization in February included 93 people. In just two months, 89 more people were arrested for political reasons.
The latest arrested are mostly religious activists, members of the Muslim Union movement and theologians.
The vast majority of these people were charged under Article 234.4.3 (large-scale drug trafficking). The arrests come amid diplomatic tensions with Iran.
The list of 182 political prisoners is divided into seven groups: journalists and bloggers – six people, members of opposition parties and movements – six people, political emigrants deported from Germany – five people, religious figures – 118 people, arrested in the “Terter case” – eight people, arrested in the “Ganja case” – 26 people, life-sentenced – 13 people.
“Azerbaijan is not yet ready for political and legal reforms”
“We turned to the head of state Ilham Aliyev. To be honest, I hoped that the number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in prisons would decrease significantly with the signing of the pardon order on the eve of May 10th. The decree on pardon is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the late head of state Heydar Aliyev. We know how valuable Heydar Aliyev is for the current government, the New Azerbaijan Party, and at the same time for the head of state, Ilham Aliyev. But when I looked at the list of those pardoned, I saw that former riot policemen – Elchin Amiraslanov and others, members of the Popular Front Party – Niyameddin Akhmedov and others, human rights activist, investigative journalist Abid Gafarov, other journalists and bloggers Ilham Aslanoglu, Polad Aslanov are not on the list,” Rufat Safarov told Voice of America.
The human rights activist admits that the centers of political power and international organizations do not consider the issue of political prisoners as a priority in negotiations and behind-the-scenes dialogues with official Baku.
“I don’t know, maybe the geopolitical situation or other factors play a role here. Political persecution in Azerbaijan does not bother the local and international community. The government itself decides who and when to arrest, as well as who to release, who to include in the pardoned list.”
The human rights activist believes that the problem of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience will remain unresolved until the courts, investigative and legal systems become independent in the country.
“This amnesty order proved once again that Azerbaijan is not yet ready for political and legal reforms,” Safarov said.