A Baku district court rejected on September 29 a demand by the widow of Talysh newspaper editor Novruzali Mamedov to open a criminal investigation into the circumstances of his death in prison last month.
Mamedov died on August 17. He was 68 and in poor health. His widow claims that prison authorities repeatedly denied him medical treatment.
A former head of the Institute of Philology of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, Mamedov was a Talysh, a small Iranian ethnic group that lives mainly in southern Azerbaijan close to the border with Iran. According to the official 2003 census, Azerbaijan's Talysh minority numbers 80,000 people; members of the unofficial Talysh National Movement claim the true figure is closer to 1.5 million, according to a 2006 article published by zerkalo.az. Mamedov himself estimated the Talysh population of Azerbaijan at 1 million.
Mamedov headed a Talysh cultural center in Baku and edited the Talysh-language newspaper "Tolyshi sado." He was arrested in February 2007 on charges of spying for Iran. Those charges were based on testimony by a staffer from his institute who claimed Mamedov accepted from the Iranian authorities $15,000 toward the cost of publishing his paper. Mamedov pled guilty to that charge at his trial in June 2008 and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.
Azerbaijani human rights activists and international human rights watchdogs expressed skepticism with regard to the charges against Mamedov. Khilal Mamedov, who headed a committee in his defense, suggested the case was fabricated by the Azerbaijani intelligence service as a warning to the country's ethnic minorities not to campaign too aggressively in defense of their rights. Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg deplored the jail term handed down to Mamedov.
Mamedov was transferred to solitary confinement in January 2009, and his health began to deteriorate shortly afterwards, prompting a group of Western diplomats to insist on visiting him in February. Human Rights Watch issued a statement shortly after he died noting the delay in his transfer to a prison hospital and calling on the Prosecutor General and Justice Ministry to conduct a full, objective, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death.