BAKU -- The parents of a journalist serving a long-term prison sentence in Azerbaijan allege that their son has been punished by the authorities for declining to vote in last month’s parliamentary elections.
Bahruz Aliyev’s parents say he was confined to a special punishment cell at Baku’s Prison No. 13 for refusing to vote on February 9.
The country’s penitentiary service denies the allegations.
Aliyev, the founder of the Neutral Information Agency, was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison on extortion charges. He rejected the accusations.
The journalist's parents, Imamverdi Aliyev and Yegana Aliyeva, told RFE/RL that they learned of the alleged punishment when they went to the prison on March 3 but were not allowed to see their son.
They said they had turned to the Red Cross for help. They also filed a complaint with Azerbaijan’s ombudsman and an appeal with the office of President Ilham Aliyev.
Mehman Sadigov, head of the penitentiary system’s public-relations department, told RFE/RL that the allegations of punishment were “absurd.”
"Voting is voluntary. Who wants to, does; who doesn’t want to, doesn’t. Therefore, it is absurd to punish anyone,” he said, adding that Aliyev was punished for repeatedly violating disciplinary rules at the prison.
Aliyev was found guilty of allegedly soliciting money from people by threatening to disseminate information to discredit the purported victims.
His father said he was prosecuted for writing articles about high-ranking officials, including the president of the state-owned oil company SOCAR.
Aliyev's case is currently awaiting an appeal in the Supreme Court.
The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) party won 72 out of 125 seats in parliament in the February elections, which were marred by widespread reports of violations. Nearly all other seats went to small parties and independents loyal to President Aliyev, who has ruled the country since shortly before his father's death 17 years ago.