United States officials should urge Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, during his visit to Washington to free unjustly imprisoned government critics and political activists, Human Rights Watch said today:
They should also urge Aliyev to lift restrictions on activists recently freed from prison and reform laws that severely curtail fundamental freedoms. Aliyev will participate in the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., from March 31 to April 1, 2016. It is his first visit to the United States since 2012.
On March 17, Aliyev signed a pardon, freeing 148 prisoners, including 13 journalists, human rights defenders, and activists who had been prosecuted on politically motivated charges. Courts freed two more people by converting their original jail time to suspended sentences. …
Other journalists and activists remain behind bars, also following convictions on unfounded and politically motivated charges, ranging from hooliganism to tax evasion. Among them is Khadija Ismayilova (above), the country’s top investigative reporter, who worked for U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. …Ilgar Mammadov, a prominent political analyst and one of Azerbaijan’s few alternative political voices, has been unjustly imprisoned since 2013, despite repeated calls by the Council of Europe, Europe’s top intergovernmental human rights body of which Azerbaijan is a member, for the government to free him.
“Because Azerbaijan is such an important partner for the US, it’s all the more reason the US government should lend its voice to help secure freedom for government critics,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “The Obama administration and members of Congress shouldn’t miss this crucial opportunity to encourage Aliyev to end the country’s human rights crackdown.”