Momentum builds to free unjustly jailed blogger in Azerbaijan


Azerbaijan authorities know no limits when it comes to silencing government critics. As everyone was celebrating the New Year, Azerbaijan authorities were busy pressing new charges against one of the country’s most popular anti-corruption bloggers, Mehman Huseynov (left), writes
Giorgi Gogia
, Human Rights Watch Associate Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“Huseynov has been serving a 2-year prison sentence after he was prosecuted for defaming an entire police station in Baku, because he publicized abuse he’d suffered there,” he adds. “On December 26, two months before his prison term was to end, the authorities brought new, spurious charges, claiming Huseynov resisted and physically assaulted a guard. If convicted, he could face seven more years in prison.”

Human rights and democracy advocates are expressing concern that Huseynov is in deteriorating health, some 13 days into a hunger strike. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, this week asked that the authorities drop the charges initiated against Mr Huseynov on 26 December “because they lack credibility.”

An anti-corruption blogger and Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, Huseynov began the hunger strike to protest against new charges brought against him while serving a prison sentence in Baku since 2017.

Huseynov is an administrator of the Facebook page “Sancaq” (The Pin), which has attracted more than 335,000 followers for its posts about Azerbaijan’s social problems and the property holdings and other luxury trappings enjoyed by the nation’s government officials, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) adds. Huseynov was arrested March 3, 2017, a day after publishing a video in which he asked fellow Azeris if they would name their spouses as their second-in-command, as President Ilham Aliyev did.

A meeting in Washington, DC, today addressed recent developments around Huseynov’s case as well as the current state of human rights violations in Azerbaijan.  Panelists included Mehman’s brother, IRFS’s founder Emin Huseynov, Thomas Melia of PEN America, Alex Raufoglu, Washington DC -based journalist and Azerbaijan Country Specialist at Amnesty International USA, Daniel Balson, Advocacy Director on Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, Sevinj Osmangizi, Azeri-American journalist and founder of Women’s Media Watch-Azerbaijan.

“The escalation of legal harassment against Mehman Huseynov—over the holiday period, and just months before his release—is an inhumane step that perfectly embodies the calculated crackdown against dissenting voices in Azerbaijan,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We condemn these brazen tactics against Huseynov, and call for authorities to withdraw these new charges and to give him speedy access to his lawyers and to adequate medical care.”

PEN America has previously advocated on behalf of journalists and writers in Azerbaijan including Mehman HuseynovAkram Aylisli, and Rashad Ramazanov. In 2015, crusading investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova received the PEN/Freedom to Write Award.

Mr. Aliyev must think no one will bother to call out his brutish behavior, a Washington Post editorial observed:

 An experienced career Foreign Service officer, Earle D. Litzenberger, has just been confirmed as U.S. ambassador. He declared in his confirmation hearing that “democracies thrive only when bolstered by an independent judiciary, respect for the rule of law, a free media, a vibrant civil society, pluralism, democratic electoral processes, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” As a first act in his new position, the ambassador should read this list out loud to Mr. Aliyev and insist that Mr. Huseynov be freed.

Mehman was also a winner of the World Youth Movement for Democracy’s photo contest for his Challenges to Democracy photo (above).

“Sometimes, you see people’s rights violated, but you cannot speak or write about it,” he said. “In this photo, the police have covered the mouth and the eyes of the man so that he can neither see reality, nor speak about it. This is how democracy exists in Azerbaijan.”

To follow the conversation and deepen your engagement, follow on Twitter and share your posts on social media using hashtags  #FreeMehman and #SaveMehmanHuseynov.

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