The Baku Court of Grave Crimes has sentenced Amrulla Gulaliyev to nine years and six months in prison for the murder of his cousin, 24-year-old journalist and queer rights activist Avaz Hafizli.
Hafizli was killed in his home in Baku on 22 February.
During the trial, Gulaliyev, also 24, claimed that he murdered his cousin due to his sexual orientation. He testified that on the day of the murder, he went to Hafizli’s house and gave him a ‘final warning’.
‘I told him to return to turn from this path [homosexuality], and he said “it’s my life, go and do your job” ’, Gulaliyev said in court. ‘I took a knife from the kitchen and attacked him’.
While murder is punishable in Azerbaijan by 9-14 years in prison, when committed with special cruelty or against a helpless person, the sentence is extended to 14–20 years or life in prison.
Friends of Hafizli and fellow activists had expressed concerns that he would not be granted justice after prosecutors asked for a sentence of only 10 years, despite the gruesome details of the murder.
His mother testified in court that he was stabbed in his sleep, as evidenced by his blood-soaked mattress, before attempting to flee.
His body was discovered with his throat slit and genitals mutilated in the yard of his home.
Gulnara Mehdiyeva, a queer rights activist, told OC Media that given that Gulaliyev admitted to committing the attack as his cousin slept, the court should have considered the murder to have been committed under aggravated circumstances.
However, Hafizli’s brother, Tabriz Shikhmammadov, said that he had forgiven his cousin and had submitted applied to the court for leniency.
‘We grew up in the same house. It's like we became brothers’, Gulaliyev said in his closing statement.
Avaz Hafizli was a prominent journalist and queer activist, who made headlines in September 2021 after chaining himself to the gates of the Prosecutor General’s Office to protest government inaction against homophobic incitement by popular Instagrammer Sevinj Huseynova.
[Read on OC Media: Obituary | Avaz Hafizli]