Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has pardoned 213 people on Azerbaijan’s Independence Day, including several prominent opposition figures.
Those pardoned on 27 May included Saleh Rustamli, one of the leaders of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) and a former governor of Gadabay District. Rustamli’s sentencing to seven years in 2019 on money laundering charges was widely condemned by opposition supporters and rights groups, who have held protests demanding his release.
Aliyev also pardoned Pasha Umudov, the personal driver of AFPF chair Ali Karimli. Umudov was sentenced to four years and six months in prison on drug charges.
Afghan Sadigov, founder of Azel TV and an outspoken critic of the government, was also pardoned.
Rasul Jafarov, co-founder of the Baku Human Rights Club, a local rights group, told OC Media that of the 57 people who they had suggested be pardoned, 22 were released.
‘We appreciate the decree, both in this regard, and because it covered 213 convicts’, said Jafarov. ‘At the same time, we will continue our activities and communication with government agencies as an organisation to continue the exemptions through other legal mechanisms existing in the country's legislation’.
Local human rights organisations noted that there were still around 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, however, government officials do not acknowledge their status, claiming that they had been prosecuted for their actions, rather than their political activity.
According to the presidential pardon decree, Azerbaijan released 168 people from prisons, while cutting the sentences of 36 others in half. The order also pardoned six people who were released from prison on parole.
Aliyev also pardoned three conditionally sentenced persons from their punishment.
Azerbaijan’s criminal code allows for the punishment of persons through the ‘restriction of liberty’, which could range from restricting an individuals ability to move around freely, whether locally or internationally, to being under house arrest.
The last pardon order was signed on March 18, 2021.