EU urges Azer­bai­jan to re­lease op­po­si­tion leader

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The EU called Satur­day on Azer­bai­jan to com­ply with a Euro­pean court rul­ing and re­lease jailed op­po­si­tion leader Il­gar Mam­madov af­ter the for­mer Soviet state’s supreme court re­jected his ap­peal.

Mam­madov, 46, was ar­rested in 2013 just be­fore he was ex­pected to stand for pres­i­dent and sen­tenced in 2014 to seven years in jail for “in­cit­ing anti-gov­ern­ment ri­ots”.

The Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights in 2014 ruled that the crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings against Mam­madov had no le­gal ba­sis and were aimed at si­lenc­ing him for crit­i­ciz­ing the gov­ern­ment. The Euro­pean Union’s diplo­matic ser­vice said Azer­bai­jan’s supreme court rul­ing Fri­day to throw out Mam­madov’s ap­peal “runs counter” to the Euro­pean court’s ver­dict. “We call on Azer­bai­jan to up­hold its obli­ga­tions as a mem­ber of the Coun­cil of Europe and to meet its com­mit­ments taken un­der the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights,” it said fol­low­ing the rul­ing it ob­served.

It then urged Azer­bai­jan “to com­ply with judg­ments of the Court of Hu­man Rights and to re­lease Mr Mam­madov.” Mam­madov’s lawyer Fuad Agayev told AFP on Fri­day that his “client’s guilt has never been proven and he has been jailed on bo­gus and po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated charges.”

The Coun­cil of Europe’s Com­mit­tee of Min­is­ters, which en­sures com­pli­ance with court judg­ments, has re­peat­edly called for Mam­madov’s re­lease and last year launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Azer­bai­jan’s ob­ser­vance of hu­man rights. In Septem­ber, it called Baku’s fail­ure to free Mam­madov a vi­o­la­tion of the Euro­pean Hu­man Rights Con­ven­tion.

Rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has de­scribed him as a “prisoner of con­science”. The leader of the Repub­li­can Al­ter­na­tive move­ment was seen as Pres­i­dent Il­ham Aliyev’s lead­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent and widely ex­pected to run in the Oc­to­ber 2013 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

He was ar­rested in Fe­bru­ary 2013 and ac­cused of be­ing be­hind protests that turned into vi­o­lent clashes in the town of Is­may­illi in Jan­uary that year. He de­nied any role in the clashes, which saw po­lice use rub­ber bul­lets, tear gas and wa­ter can­non to dis­perse thou­sands of pro­test­ers af­ter res­i­dents set sev­eral build­ings and cars on fire.

In Oc­to­ber 2015, Mam­madov’s lawyers said he was se­verely beaten in the head by prison guards. Any dis­play of pub­lic dis­con­tent and po­lit­i­cal dis­sent usu­ally meets a tough gov­ern­ment re­sponse in Azer­bai­jan. Rights groups say the gov­ern­ment of the en­ergy-rich Caspian state has clamped down on op­po­nents since Aliyev’s re-elec­tion in 2013.

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