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Only two political activists amongst 800 pardoned in Azerbaijan

9 May 2023
A prison in Azerbaijan. Photo: Zaur Mustafaev/Trend.az

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has pardoned 801 people to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Heydar Aliyev, his father and the previous President of Azerbaijan. 

Monday’s pardons represent the highest number issued in one order in Azerbaijan’s post-independence history. 

Of the 801 pardons, 463 individuals were released from prison, 220 had their sentences halved, and 118 were released from punishments other than imprisonment: restriction of liberty, correctional works, fines, and conditional sentences.

Those pardoned included four convicted in the 2017 Terter military spying case, and two arrested at protests in Ganja in 2018 after the attempted murder of Ganja’s mayor. 

Of those released, only two were amongst the many detainees described by rights groups and opposition activists as political prisoners: Ali Aliyev, the leader of the Civic and Development Party, and Elchin Mammad, a human rights defender from Sumgayit. 

The list of those pardoned did not include a number of journalists, bloggers, and religious and political activists believed to be imprisoned on political grounds, including dozens of activists associated with the opposition Popular Front Party. 

Ali Karimli, the party’s chair, claimed that more than 100 political prisoners remained incarcerated, and described the pardons as ‘disrespectful to the public’. 

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‘First of all, because if there was going to be any pardons these days, it should have been on 28 May — on the occasion of the 105th anniversary of the establishment of our state’, wrote Karimli. ‘How can the anniversary of the establishment of the state be sacrificed to the anniversary of the [president’s] father? This order is a shining example of putting the interests of family power before the interests of the state.’

He added that the release of only two political prisoners was ‘a demonstration of the regime’s loyalty to a policy of repression’. 

‘This incomplete amnesty decree also revealed that the approach of some international circles, who claimed that they would promote progressive reforms by applauding Ilham Aliyev, was wrong’, concluded Karimli. 

On 8 May, the American Embassy in Azerbaijan welcomed the pardons of ‘Azerbaijanis incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms’, but noted that many remained imprisoned for exercising those rights. 

‘We call on Azerbaijan to release these persons in accordance with the obligations arising from the country’s constitution and international agreements, as well as to take additional steps to protect the basic freedoms of its citizens’, the statement said. 

A pardon order was last signed in Azerbaijan on 27 May 2022, on the occasion of Azerbaijan’s Independence Day, when 213 individuals were pardoned. 

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