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Azerbaijani opposition party chair detained for ‘collusion with a terrorist organisation’

25 July 2023
Gubad Ibadoghlu outside his office. Screengrab from video, RFE/RL.

Gubad Ibadoghlu, an economist and chair of the opposition Azerbaijan Democracy and Welfare Party, has been sentenced to four months of preventive detention on charges he claims are politically motivated. Ibadoghlu’s wife was allegedly beaten by police while being temporarily detained. 

Ibadoghlu was detained on the afternoon of 23 July, and taken to the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combating Organised Crime (Bandotdel). 

Ibadoghlu lives and works in London, where he is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics, but has been in Azerbaijan since the beginning of July to visit his mother who was experiencing health issues. 

Zhala Bayramova, Ibadoghlu’s daughter, shared information of his detention on Facebook, stating that her father had been detained while travelling to meet young people in Sumgayit, a city north-west of Baku. 

Irada Bayramova, Ibadoghlu’s wife, later stated that she had been physically assaulted by police in civilian clothes while being detained together with her husband.

‘They stopped our car by blocking the road with their car. Then they took Gubad out of the car. They also took me to the Main Organised Crime Department in another car. They used physical force on me while I got into their car’, Irada Bayramova said.

She noted that police had hit her during her detention, leaving bruises on her shoulders and legs.

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Bayramova was released a few hours after being detained.

Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry on 23 July stated that Ibadoghlu’s detention took place following the detention of four individuals in Azerbaijan on the basis of information received from the Turkish Interior Ministry. 

The individuals were alleged to be supporters of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey blames for an attempted coup in 2016. Turkish authorities have designated supporters of Gulen a terrorist organisation, which they refer to as FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation). 

Anar Aliyev, one of the four people detained, stated that he had a ‘connection’ to Ibadoghlu, prompting a search of the opposition figure’s office. The Interior Ministry reportedly found documents connecting Ibadoghlu to FETÖ in the office, leading to his detention. 

On Sunday evening, Ibadoghlu was brought to his office by law enforcement officers. After the office had been searched, police put a black bag over Ibadoghlu’s head before removing him from the premises. 

At the office’s exit, Ibadoghlu told journalists that he had been ‘arrested by order of Ilham Aliyev’. 

On 24 July, Ibadoghlu was interrogated and charged with making, acquiring, or selling counterfeit money or securities as part of an organised group. The Narimanov District Court remanded Ibadoghlu to three months and 26 days of pretrial detention while the case was being investigated. 

Ibadoghlu maintains that he does not know Anar Aliyev and that the accusations against him are false. 

Ibadoghlu’s lawyer, Zibeyda Sadigova added that his detention while the investigation was ongoing was unnecessary, and announced that they would file an appeal against the court’s decision. 

Sadigova additionally stated that Ibadoghlu had not visited the office for ‘years’, as he had been living in London. 

She stated that police had confiscated documents related to the activities of an economic research centre headed by Ibadoghlu around 15 years ago. She added that those documents had previously been assessed by the prosecutor’s office in relation to a criminal case relating to civil society organisations, but had been checked and returned. 

The police and prosecutor claimed that $40,000 was found in Ibadoghlu’s office; money which Ibadoghlu stated did not belong to him. 

Five other people were detained on the same charges as Ibadoghlu on 23 July, a day after Turkish media identified them as having ties to FETÖ. All were sentenced to four months of pretrial investigation. 

Ibadoghlu has in recent years been sharply critical of Azerbaijan’s government, particularly in relation to human rights violations and corruption. 

‘He wants to return money stolen by Aliyev’

On 27 June, Ibadoghlu founded the Azerbaijani Youth Education Fund, together with Professor Jamil Hasanli, head of the National Council of Democratic Forces, an Azerbajiani opposition coalition based in Britain, and Arif Mammadov, a former Azerbaijani diplomat in political exile in Europe. 

Since then, all three have been the subjects of attacks by pro-government Internet resources. 

Ibadoghlu wrote on 11 July that the Azerbaijan Youth Educational Fund had been registered by the Charity Commission for England and Wales. He stated that as well as donations, the fund would be supported by ‘confiscating’ money that the government had ‘stolen from the people and economy of Azerbaijan and looted from the budget’. 

‘In this regard, appeals to the relevant authorities in the USA, EU, and UK are planned’, Ibadoghlu wrote.

Zhala Bayramova, Ibadoghlu’s daughter, told OC Media that Ibadoghlu was arrested ‘because he wanted to return money stolen by Aliyev’. 

‘The purpose of the fund was to organise the education of Azerbaijani students abroad, as well as to obtain money stolen from the country and seized in foreign banks and transfer it to the fund. They wanted to conduct legal proceedings in this regard’, said Bayramova. ‘This is one of the main reasons for my father’s arrest’.

Bayramova added that Ibadoghlu had serious health conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes, but that it had been impossible to deliver his medicines since his detentions and he was not allowed to take them with him. 

A number of investigations into government corruption have found that President Ilham Aliyev’s family owns real estate in London. One such investigation estimated the total value of the properties to be $60 million. 

Since the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Ibadoghlu has prepared a number of reports and articles claiming to expose government corruption and embezzlement.