Mehman Huseynov.

© 2017 Aziz Karimov

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.

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. 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.

Huseynov vehemently denies the charges and went on a hunger strike in protest. He told his lawyers, that on December 26, during a routine inspection, the deputy warden took him to another room, where he said Huseynov would be searched. Fearing a setup, Huseynov requested that fellow inmates and other prison officials be present. After the deputy left, Huseynov remained alone with another prison official, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov. As they were waiting, Huseynov, with his back turned to Abdalov, heard him fall to the ground and shout that Huseynov had attacked him. Huseynov’s lawyers requested access to the surveillance videos from the area, but officials have said the surveillance cameras don’t have recording memory cards.

Huseynov was placed in a solitary confinement and then transferred to a remand prison – a decision that requires a court order. However, neither of Huseynov’s lawyers were notified of any court hearing, if it took place.

This would not be the first time the authorities used false charges to keep government critics in jail. Today, a court  added six months to the three-year term being served by Mammad Ibrahim, advisor to the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman. Ibrahim was arrested in 2016, and in September 2018, two days before his scheduled release, the authorities claimed they found a knife in his cell and pressed additional charges.

Huseynov and Ibrahim are among dozens of journalists, bloggers, and activists in prison on politically motivated charges in Azerbaijan. The authorities should immediately free Huseynov, drop all charges, and hold abusive officials to account.

Next week, the European Parliament will debate an urgent resolution on Huseynov’s case. They should send another strong message to Azerbaijan’s authorities that business as usual is not possible when Huseynov and others like him remain behind bars.