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PACE Rapporteurs Concerned At Sentence Handed To Azerbaijani Opposition Politician

Tofiq Yaqublu (file photo)
Tofiq Yaqublu (file photo)

Three rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have urged Azerbaijan to review the case of opposition politician Tofiq Yaqublu, who was sentenced to four years and three months in prison on charges of "hooliganism."

A court in Baku on September 3 found Yaqublu, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party and a senior politician in the National Council of Democratic Forces, guilty and sentenced him the same day.

"We are deeply concerned by [Yaqublu's] lawyers' accusations that the trial was unfair, closed to the public and that all the defense motions were rejected," said PACE's monitoring co-rapporteurs for Azerbaijan, Sir Roger Gale and Stefan Schennach, together with PACE's rapporteur on reported cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Sunna AEvarsdottir.

"We are particularly alarmed by the severity of the sentence and [Yaqublu's] decision to start a hunger strike," they added.

On September 2, Yaqublu started a hunger strike after Judge Nariman Mehdiyev prevented him from making a final statement in court. In the statement, which Yaqublu began to read before being halted by the judge, he questioned the legality of the case against him, calling it politically motivated.

Yaqublu was arrested in March after a car hit his vehicle in Baku and the driver of the car started a heated argument with the politician.

Investigators accused Yaqublu of "using a wrench to conduct an act of hooliganism" against the driver, which the politician has denied.

Yaqublu and human rights groups say the car accident most likely was staged to be used for the case.

Yaqublu frequently criticizes the government and authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev.

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.

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