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Hunger strike of Azerbaijani religious leader continues

21 June 2022
Taleh Baghirzade in 2015. Video still via Xalq TV.

Taleh Baghirzade, chair of Azerbaijan's Muslim Unity Movement, has been on hunger strike since 3 June in protest against the arrest and alleged torture of members of his organisation.

Baghirzade has also demanded an apology from the law enforcement officers who allegedly insulted God while interrogating a member of the group.

Baghirzade's lawyer, Fakhraddin Mehdiyev, told OC Media that despite having ‘serious health problems’ his client would not stop his hunger strike until ‘the perpetrators are punished’.

Baghirzade is currently serving a 20-year sentence on charges of inciting hatred and plotting to overthrow the government. He was arrested following the violent police raids of Baku’s Nardaran neighbourhood in which seven people, including two police officers, were killed in 2015.

Muslim Unity Movement’s Razi Abbasov, who was sentenced on 20 May to six years in prison on drug charges, said police officers had insulted God as they tortured him. 

Five more members of the group were detained outside the hearing, with three of them sentenced to 30 days in prison on charges of resisting police. They also claimed to have been tortured while in police custody.

On 18 June, three more religious activists from Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, Sumgayit, were detained after writing graffiti on a wall calling for the police officers who insulted God to be punished. 

One of the activists, Yasin Ahmadov, was sentenced to 10 days in detention, however, it remains unclear under which article he was sentenced.

Abulfaz Bunyadov, another member of the Movement, told Turan that they did not have any ‘special or impossible demands’.

‘We believers have no political demands, but we will not give up demanding our fundamental rights’, he said.

‘We simply do not accept law enforcement officers in the country insulting God. For this, our state and law enforcement agencies can take measures in a very simple way and punish those who commit these acts.’

He also criticised the government for remaining silent on Baghirzadeh’s hunger strike.

Law enforcement agencies have denied that officers insulted God but did not comment on the arrests.

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