Free Azerbaijan’s Activist And Blogger Mehman Huseynov

Mridvika Sahajpal

Mehman Huseynov is a popular human rights journalist and blogger in Azerbaijan, who became known for his exposés of alleged corruption by senior Azerbaijani officials. The global community has long been awaiting his release from an Azerbaijani prison this March, but authorities have now filed new charges that could potentially keep him in jail for another seven years. As it currently stands, Huseynov is on a hunger strike and is being joined in protest by many other political prisoners and activists in Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani government has allegedly targeted Huseynov for years, as both he and his brother are prominent human rights activists in the country, with his brother, Emin Huseynov, having founded the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS).

Since 2012, the brothers have been repeatedly harassed and intimated by the police. In March 2017, a Baku court sentenced Huseynov to two years in prison for “defamation” of a police station, after he gave a statement in a courthouse describing the abuses he had suffered during his detainment. He had been arrested by plainly-clothed police officers, blindfolded and gagged with towels, with a bag forced over his head as he had been punched and his groin electrocuted. In April 2017, an appeal court upheld the prosecutor’s decision to shut down any enquiries into Huseynov’s allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the police. He has been in prison since then.

The unlawful imprisonment of Huseynov signifies a persistent and well-documented problem of authorities attempting to silence anti-corruption advocacy and human rights journalism in Azerbaijan. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Council of Europe, and several other IOs and NGOs stand together in condemning the Azerbaijani government, and push for right to freedom of expression.

On January 17, European lawmakers came together to pass a resolution, calling for his unconditional release, meaning the incident will, in fact, “remain a priority in EU-Azerbaijan bilateral relations.”

Furthermore, on January 19, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Baku to call for anti-corruption measures, and for Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to release Huseynov and other political prisoners. The National Council for Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of opposition parties, organized the rally. There were no violent incidents at the event, but rally organizers say about 100 activists were detained ahead of the demonstration, with most of them still being in detainment. The crux of the issue remains that the Azerbaijani government rejects any notion that there are political prisoners in the country, instead citing that these people had been detained on charges including hooliganism, bribery, extortion, and drug possession.

They fail to acknowledge that, when these people were detained, they had been simultaneously covering cases of high-level corruption involving government officials. “I will not stop the strike,” Huseynov had announced in a statement released on his attorney’s Facebook page just a couple weeks prior. “Sacrificing our freedom is not enough, we have to sacrifice our lives. I’m ready for that. I think my death could shape our society and trigger strong and immediate reactions from international organizations and governments. In this way, I can protect others from the actions taken against me.”