Human rights activist Mehman Galandarov was found dead in Baku Detention Centre on 28 April; according to an official statement by the authorities, Galandarov committed suicide.
Galandarov, 39, was arrested by police on 7 February, after which he was taken to Baku Investigative Prison. Azerbaijani human rights activists considered Galandarov a political prisoner.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Justice and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office released a joint statement on 1 May, claiming that Galandarov hanged himself at around 13:30 using a piece of cloth, while his cellmate was asleep. An investigation is ongoing for ‘bringing a person to suicide’.
The head of the Public Alliance — Azerbaijan Without Political Prisoners organisation, Ogtay Gulaliyev, told Caucasian Knot that Galandarov’s funeral was held in secret, away from the public, which he says raises doubts about the official story of his death.
Local independent organisation, the Centre for the Protection of Political Prisoners (CPPP) has decided to create a separate commission to investigate the circumstances of his death, Caucasian Knot reported.
The CPPP called on investigators to exhume the body, with the help of independent experts.
According to Caucasian Knot, Galandarov regularly attended opposition rallies. The claim he was detained in February for attempting to picket alone at a monument to former president Heydar Aliyev, the father of current President Ilham Aliyev, and was only later accused of drug dealing, a charge he denied.
According to Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, Galandarov participated in the protest rally in Tbilisi against Azerbaijan’s crackdown on opposition figures and freedom fighters.
Galandarov stood with other Azerbaijani and Georgian activists in solidarity with Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov. The pair were arrested on 10 May 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, also on drug charges. They were arrested after painting graffiti on a statue of Heydar Aliyev the night before ‘Flower Day’ — Heydar Aliyev’s birthday — which read ‘happy slaves day’ in Azerbaijani, and ‘Fuck the system!’.
Activists in Tbilisi held banners, saying ‘Happy Slaves Day!’ Gulaliyev told Caucasian Knot that Galandarov had posted photos of his actions on Facebook; ‘apparently, he was noticed by law enforcement bodies in Azerbaijan’, he added.
According to a 2017 report by American rights group Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan’s government continued its thorough crackdown on dissenting voices in 2016, leaving a wide gap in Azerbaijan’s once vibrant independent civil society. Authorities released 17 human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists imprisoned on politically motivated charges. But at least 25 government critics remained wrongfully imprisoned, including political activists and bloggers arrested in 2016.