BAKU -- Azerbaijani opposition politician Tofiq Yaqublu, who was sentenced to more than four years in prison earlier this month, has been transferred to house arrest after needing hospitalization due to health complications arising from a hunger strike he was on.
The 59-year-old deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party and a senior member of the National Council of Democratic was in a Baku hospital when Judge Elmar Rahimov changed the terms of Yaqublu's sentence on September 18.
Later in the day, Yaqublu left the hospital surrounded by his relatives and colleagues and addressed dozens of his supporters as he exited the building.
"Thank you very much for your support, the fight for justice and the truth will continue. I have not changed my stance and consider all charges against me as bogus. Courts, investigators, and their witnesses are all people who took part in the falsification and they must be held responsible for that," Yaqublu said.
Yaqublu 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.
The politician 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.
The Oslo-based Human Rights House Foundation welcomed the move but urged the government to overturn Yaqublu's conviction.
"He is innocent, the charges against him are false and they should be dropped altogether," Kety Abashidze, the foundation’s Eastern Europe officer, wrote on Twitter.
European Union officials have expressed concerns over Yaqublu's conviction and called on Baku to revisit his case.
Last week, Azerbaijan’s leading human rights defenders appealed to authorities to release Yaqublu and his supporters staged several rallies in Baku demanding his immediate release.
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.