The mood today in Baku was one of elation, as dozens of friends, family, colleagues, and supporters cheered in front of the Supreme Court, welcoming its decision to release Azerbaijan’s leading human rights lawyer, Intigam Aliyev. The court converted his seven-and-a-half year prison sentence to a five-year suspended term.
It’s thrilling news to those who know Aliyev and his work as a lawyer and chair of the Legal Education Society, which litigated human rights cases in Azerbaijan. He was one of the first Azerbaijani lawyers to bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights and has mentored a new generation of human rights lawyers in the country.
In April 2015, Baku’s Grave Crimes Court convicted Aliyev on politically motivated charges of tax evasion, illegal business activities, embezzlement, and abuse of authority. Aliyev was arrested in August 2014, in a sweeping crackdown against government critics. In 2014 and 2015, authorities arrested dozens of human rights defenders, journalists, political activists, and other government critics on politically motivated charges including hooliganism, drug possession, so-called economic crimes, and even treason.
Earlier this month, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree pardoning 148 prisoners, among them thirteen journalists, human rights defenders, and activists who had been prosecuted on politically motivated charges. The same day, the Baku Appeals Court converted a six-year prison sentence imposed on journalist Rauf Mirgadirov to a five-year suspended term and released him from the courtroom.
However, other activists are still unjustly behind bars in Azerbaijan and should be immediately freed. They include political analyst Ilgar Mammadov, whom authorities continue to hold in defiance of the European Court of Human Rights decision on his case and the repeated calls by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to free him; and prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Also behind bars are youth activist Ilkin Rustamzadeh and journalist Seymur Hazi. And the list goes on.
Azerbaijan’s international partners should continue to insist that Baku release all others in jail on politically motivated charges and allow them to work and travel freely. The Obama administration will have ample opportunity to do so later this week, when President Aliyev travels to Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit.