BAKU -- A group uniting leading human rights defenders in Azerbaijan is appealing to authorities to release hunger-striking opposition politician Tofiq Yaqublu, who was sentenced to more than four years in prison on hooliganism charges that he and supporters call "bogus."
A member of the Joint Working Group on Human Rights (BIQ), Novella Cafaroglu, said on September 10 that the group had turned to officials at various levels and agencies, including lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and members of the state commission on clemencies, urging them to focus on the issue.
Cafaroglu said that the BIQ urged the officials to assist in expedited and open hearings into Yaqublu's appeal, cancellation of his sentence, and his release, adding that the release of other political prisoners is also on the group's agenda.
Cafaroglu's statement came a day after police in Baku broke up a rally held by Yaqublu's supporters demanding his immediate release. At least 20 demonstrators were detained.
The 59-year-old Yaqublu is a deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party and a senior politician in the National Council of Democratic Forces.
He was convicted of "hooliganism" and sentenced to four years and three months in prison on September 3 over a dispute after a traffic accident that he and rights groups say was a setup for the "bogus" case.
Yaqublu's lawyer, Aqil Layic, told RFE/RL on September 7 that the politician was being pressured to confess to nonexistent psychological problems to explain the hunger strike he launched to protest his conviction.
Yaqublu was arrested in March after the car collision.
Investigators accused Yaqublu of "using a wrench to conduct an act of hooliganism" against the other driver, a charge he has denied.
European Union officials have expressed concern over Yaqublu's conviction and called on Baku to revisit his case.
Yaqublu, who frequently criticizes the government and authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev, spent 14 months in prison in 2013-14 on charges widely dismissed as politically motivated.
He was also sentenced to several days in jail in October 2019 after an opposition rally, during which he claims he was tortured in custody.
Critics of Aliyev's government say authorities in the oil-rich Caspian Sea state frequently seek to silence dissent by jailing opposition activists, journalists, and civil-society advocates on trumped-up charges.
Aliyev has ruled Azerbaijan since 2003, taking over for his father, Heydar Aliyev, who served as president for a decade.