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Aydin Gurbanov, one of the 80 detainees of Ganja protests in July 2018, died in custody from cancer on Wednesday. The authorities in Baku refused to release him despite repeated appeals by his relatives and human rights activists.
Gurbanov was arrested in July 2018 after mass protests in Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan. He spent one year in pretrial detention before his death.
In March, Gurbanov was transferred to the medical unit of the Penitentiary Service in Baku due to his deteriorating health.
His wife, Mahbuda Mammadova, told RFE/RL that Gurbanov died there on 10 July.
According to Mammadova, the officers let her see him for 15 minutes. Later Gurbanov fell into a coma and died shortly thereafter.
‘I begged the officials to let me take him. To at least allow him to have his last breath at home. To let his children hold his hand. They refused. They said a court must decide that’, Mammadova told RFE/RL.
On 3 July 2018, Ganja resident Yunis Safarov opened fire on then–Chief Executive of Ganja, Elmar Valiyev, wounding him and a bodyguard.
A week later, an anti-government protest was held in Ganja against Valiyev in which two police officers were fatally stabbed.
The government blamed the violence on Islamic extremists and said Safarov intended to kill Valiyev and other high-profile officials in order to destabilise the country and establish an Islamic State in Azerbaijan.
In the ensuing police operation, 80 people were detained and ten more were killed by police.
Human rights activist Oqtay Gulaliyev, the coordinator of the Committee against Torture and Corruption — an organisation engaged in the public defence of Gurbanov and other detainees of the Ganja protests — told OC Media that Gurbanov’s funeral would be held on 11 July.
Gulaliyev said that Gurbanov had been accused of an incredible list of charges, including funding terrorism, attempting to violently overthrow the government, participating in the creation of a religious state, possession of illegal weapons, and ownership of an illegal ammunition warehouse.
Gulaliyev pointed said that in contrast to the scope of these claims, Gurbanov didn’t even own his own home, and that funeral was being held at his sister’s house.
Сomplaints of torture
Gulaliyev told OC Media that, according to members of Gurbanov’s family, after his arrest, Gurbanov was brought to the General Directorate for Combating Organised Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where he was severely tortured.
The General Prosecutor’s Office and the Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice said in a statement on Thursday that ‘the reports of some media outlets that Gurbanov allegedly died due to the use of torture against him do not correspond to reality. During his stay in pre-trial detention and in the treatment facility, no complaints of torture were received either from him or from his relatives, and no traces of injury were found [on his body] during the examinations he underwent while [he was] receiving treatment, and when his body was examined after death.’
Gulaliyev said that the statement of the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice was far from the truth.
‘After the deterioration of Gurbanov’s health, both his family members and our organisation repeatedly appealed to the General Prosecutor's Office, as well as to other relevant institutions about the torture. His wife said that she sent about 1,000 telegrams’, Gulaliyev said.
According to him, the Committee against Torture and Corruption along with Gurbanov’s relatives appealed on 9 June to President Ilham Aliyev regarding the deteriorating health of Aydin Gurbanov and Abulfaz Bunyatov, who was convicted after the Nardaran clashes of 2015.
According to Gulaliyev, Bunyatov was released on 10 July. ‘Unfortunately, only after Gurbanov's death and the severe deterioration in his own health condition’.
He also noted that during Gurbanov’s detention no proper investigation of his case was ever conducted.
‘In general, this applies to all cases related to the Ganja protests, because all these cases were entirely fabricated by the political establishment’, Gulaliyev added.