EU urges Azerbaijan to release opposition leader
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.