BAKU -- The pretrial detention of Azerbaijani activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev has been extended by five days by a court in Ganca, where he is being held, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
Hajiyev, 29, a Harvard graduate and former opposition parliamentary candidate, is charged with evading military service. He and other activists say the criminal case against him is politically motivated.
Hajiyev was arrested on March 4 for illegally leaving Ganca while a criminal case had been launched against him and was remanded in pretrial custody for one month. On April 4, the term of his pretrial detention was prolonged for three more days, and on April 7 for a further five days.
Ganca's Nizami District Court chairman Ali Tagiyev refused to comment to RFE/RL on April 8 about the court decision to prolong Hajiyev's pretrial detention, but advised his lawyers to appeal the extension.
One of Hajiyev's lawyers, Alaif Hasanov, told RFE/RL his legal team has already sent two appeals regarding Hajiyev's case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
During Hajiyev's court hearing on April 7 he occasionally answered questions from RFE/RL on his mobile phone. He said Azerbaijani trials in recent years reminded him of "puppet shows" and that police are trying to intimidate politically active young people by arresting him, but their efforts have been unsuccessful.
Hajiyev said he will never change his views despite the pressure and injustice to which he is being subjected.
"[The court] will issue a verdict depending on the political instructions they are given," he said. "But I will defend my rights in accordance with Azerbaijan's Constitution, the international conventions to which Azerbaijan has acceded, and its commitments to international organizations. But I'm ready for any decision. Even the harshest verdict does not frighten me."
The Harvard Kennedy School, from which Hajiyev graduated in 2009, has sent a letter of support to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the country's human rights ombudsman, the Justice Ministry, and the Azerbaijani Embassy in the United States.
The letter is dated March 26 but was posted by the "Support Bakhtiyar!" Facebook group
only this week.
The letter is signed by John Haigh, executive dean of Harvard's Kennedy School, on behalf of 14 professors and other colleagues. It concludes: "We are distressed by the recent news about [Hajiyev's] detention and treatment and are very concerned about his well-being. We ask that the responsible authorities in Azerbaijan protect him from torture as well as physical and emotional ill-treatment. We also call for Mr. Hajiyev to be afforded the due process of law and an open trial. We also call for allegations of his torture and ill-treatment while under police custody to be investigated, and that he be released from prison until his trial begins."
Read more in Azeri here and here