BAKU -- An Azerbaijani villager has died after setting himself and his home ablaze in desperation after police pressured him to pay a fine for chopping down trees, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
Adalat Huseynov, 35, died of his burns on January 21, one day after setting himself alight. His wife and two sons, aged 12 and 14 years, remain in critical condition in a Baku hospital. The family's daughter was not at home at the time.
Huseynov's familiy lived in the village of Zamanli in Azerbaijan's western Gadabay district, which does not have gas lines. Huseynov's relatives say local police officials had been harassing him into paying a fine of 1,000 manats ($1,250) for cutting timber to heat his home.
Vasif Nabiyev, director of the Gadabay Regional Forestry Protection and Restoration Office, told local media last week that Huseynov had been fined several times before for illegally cutting wood.
"The last time he didn't pay the fine but continued to [cut wood]," Nabiyev added. Local police officials denied they had harassed Huseynov.
Huseynov's wife, Hakima Huseynova, told RFE/RL today that police had visited their home almost every day since September when the fine was imposed.
"On December 28, five or six drunken police came to our house," she said. "They began beating my husband in front of my sons and took him away in his underwear. Adalat was held at the police station for two days, after which he sold our only cow and paid half the fine."
His wife said the police set a deadline of January 25 for Huseynov to pay the fine or face trial in court. "Adalat said he was told he had to pay the fine or he would be sentenced to one or two years and would die in prison," she said.
Yegana Amiraslanova, a former parliament candidate from Gadabay district, is related to Huseynov. She accuses local forestry officials of cutting and selling timber, which she says is dangerous as the district is on the "line of contact" separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"The Armenians can target the village more easily once the trees are felled," Amiraslanova explained.