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Prominent Azerbaijani Journalist Joins Hunger Strikers Demanding Blogger's Release


Mehman Huseynov
Mehman Huseynov

BAKU – Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova has joined an ongoing hunger strike by a group of activists calling for the release of a jailed anticorruption blogger and other people they consider political prisoners.

Ismayilova posted photos on Facebook on January 15 that showed her, activist Namiq Abdullayev, and others holding the hunger strike on the premises of the opposition Musavat party in Baku.

Four other people, including Musavat deputy head Tofiq Yaqublu, have been on hunger strike there for several days, demanding that the Azerbaijani authorities immediately free Mehman Huseynov and all political prisoners in the South Caucasus country.

"I have nothing else to sacrifice...other than my health," Ismailova said in a January 14 post announcing her intention to join the hunger strike.

She demanded that President Ilham Aliyev's government "drop charges against five political prisoners who were about to end their prison terms" and "release all journalists, bloggers, and freedom of expression activists from prison."

She also called on the government to implement a “zero political prisoners policy” that would include jointly reviewing "all political prisoners cases" with independent human rights groups.

"Stop me if you can!" Ismayilova added.

Yaqublu told RFE/RL that he and activist Natiq Irsafilli had refused both food and water since the evening of January 14.

Khadija Ismayilova
Khadija Ismayilova

Calls for Huseynov's release have intensified inside and outside Azerbaijan since he was targeted with a new charge late last month, just weeks before his expected release from prison.

He is accused of "resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to [the representative's] health and life."

Huseynov himself and several other political prisoners have started hunger strikes in protest.

Huseynov is already serving a two-year prison term on libel charges that he and his supporters considered to be politically motivated.

The blogger’s lawyer said Huseynov could face up to seven years in prison if convicted of the new charge, which has triggered calls by Azerbaijani and international watchdog groups, members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), and The Washington Post's editorial board for Huseynov’s release.

Rights groups and Western governments have urged the Azerbaijani authorities to release political prisoners for years, and have accused the government of fabricating criminal cases to stifle dissent and media freedom.

Aliev, who has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic of almost 10 million people with an iron fist since shortly before his long-ruling father's death in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism.