Azerbaijan should immediately and unconditionally release two political leaders who have been behind bars for more than a year on fabricated charges, Amnesty International said.
On 17 March, the Shaki District Court is expected to announce the verdict against Tofig Yagublu and Ilgar Mammadov – two prisoners of conscience who were arrested more than a year ago after they observed riots in the northern city of Ismayili.
“The authorities in Azerbaijan seem to stop at nothing to crush dissent. All Tofig and Ilgar did was visit Ismayili to observe and report on these events. They are being punished simply as critics of the government,” said Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
Tofig Yagublu is an independent Azeri journalist and the deputy chair of the opposition Musavat party and Ilgar Mammadov is leader of the Azeri opposition group REAL. If convicted, Tofig Yagublu and Ilgar Mammadov face up to 12 years in prison.
They were accused of inciting violent anti-government riots on 23-24 January 2013 in Ismayili when people took to the streets after the nephew of the local governor reportedly assaulted a local man in a road rage incident.
“Those in power show an absolute disregard for any dissenting voices in Azerbaijan. Tofig Yagublu and Ilgar Mammadov should be released immediately and all trumped up charges should be dropped,” said Denis Krivosheev.
There are at least 17 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, imprisoned solely in connection with their attempts to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression.