On Monday a court in Azerbaijan convicted Elgiz Gahraman, 31, to five-and-a-half years in prison on bogus drugs-related criminal charges. Gahraman’s conviction fits squarely into a well-established pattern of Azerbaijan’s authorities using false, politically motivated drug and other criminal charges to punish and imprison political and youth activists.

Azerbaijani activist Elgiz Gahraman at a protest in Turkey, where he was a student in 2014. 

Police detained Gahraman in Baku on August 12, 2016 and took him to the Interior Ministry’s Organized Crime Unit. Police did not inform Gahraman’s family of his whereabouts for several days and denied him access to a lawyer of his choosing. Gahraman later alleged that officials beat him on his head and genitals and threatened him with sexual assault. They forced him to clean the floors in his underwear.

It is no surprise when authorities finally allowed him to see his lawyer on August 19, Gahraman said he had little choice but to sign a false statement confessing to drug possession. Police claim they found just over three grams of heroin on him, and that he intended to sell it. Gahraman denies the charges.

During his trial, Gahraman told the judge he confessed under duress in police custody, and testified how police beat, threatened, and humiliated him. The judge refused to order an investigation into the allegations, which authorities dismissed as groundless.

Gahraman is a member of NIDA, a youth opposition group active on social media and highly critical of the government.

Late last year, the same court sent two other NIDA activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov, to 10 years in prison on false drug charges, apparently in retaliation for the activists’ political graffiti on a statue of the former president.

No one is fooled by these trumped-up charges and convictions that are just a part of the government’s spiteful tool box of punishments for those who speak out against it or its policies. The Azerbaijani authorities should immediately free Gahraman, Mammadov, and Ibrahimov and others facing similar false charges, and promptly and effectively investigate all allegations of ill-treatment in police custody.