A Talysh blogger arrested by the State Security Service in July 2020 has been sentenced to seven years in prison by a Baku court for ‘inciting national hatred’, among other charges.
Aslan Gurbanov was found guilty on 15 April of public incitement against the state and incitement of national, racial, social, religious hatred and enmity through the media.
The blogger was accused of carrying out anti-government propaganda on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, disseminating discriminatory materials, and violating the rights of the Talysh by publishing materials that ‘falsely claimed’ that Talysh people were discriminated against.
In September 2020, the blogger's brother, Sakit Gurbanov, told RFE/RL that his brother had been receiving treatment in the hospital for about 15 days. Yet, the family never received any news on his diagnosis or the reason for his hospitalisation.
Sakit Gurbanov told OC Media that after his brother's arrest on 14 July 2020, they had only had the chance to see him once, on 8 February, in the State Security Service building.
‘He told us that someone from the security service told him, “I will make sure you get 10 years in prison so that it teaches a lesson to all Talysh. Let those who want to live in this country stay; those who do not like it can leave.”’
According to the family, Aslan Gurbanov has heart problems and suffers from epilepsy.
‘He was just a regular blogger’
A number of Talysh activists in Azerbaijan and abroad have spoken out in Gurbanov’s defence.
‘One of the main charges against him was that he took a picture with a Talysh flag in the Baku Boulevard and kept a flag at home,’ Ismail Shabanov, President of the Talysh Federal Cultural Autonomy of Russia told OC Media. ‘The Azerbaijani government has taken a radical line against the Talysh and does not intend to compromise.’
‘I do not believe that the situation will change unless the world's leading countries pressure Azerbaijan. But we, the Talysh, are fighting and will continue to fight to the best of our ability’, Shabanov said.
Hilal Mammadov, an Azerbaijani journalist, human rights activist, and co-chair of the Public Council of Talysh in Azerbaijan (PCTA) told OC Media he was certain that the charges against Gurbanov were fabricated.
‘It is a measure to intimidate Talysh activists and violate their rights. Aslan was not a well-known Talysh activist. He was just a regular blogger and promoted the history and culture of the Talysh people within the law’, he told OC Media.
Rahim Shaliyev, a Talysh activist and journalist, told OC Media that the Azerbaijani government had demonstrated a systematic policy of Azeri ethnocentrism and discrimination against the Talysh. These prejudices, Shaliyev said, were also echoed by local, ethnically Azeri, human rights activists. ‘They [the local activists] created a monopoly, trying to hide or manipulate what is happening to Talysh activists from international organisations’, he said.