The U.S. State Department has welcomed the decision by an Azerbaijani court to release opposition politician Ilqar Mammadov after more than five years in prison.
Mammadov’s "conviction and imprisonment for over five years raised serious concerns about the rule of law in Azerbaijan," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on August 15.
Mammadov, the leader of the opposition Republican Alternative (REAL) party, was released from prison on August 13 after serving more than five years of his seven-year term.
The State Department called on the government of Azerbaijan to drop the charges against Mammadov, "in keeping with its international obligations and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights."
It also urged Baku to release "all other individuals who have been imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”
A court of appeals in the northern city of Saki ruled on August 13 that Mammadov's remaining prison term must be suspended.
The court also ruled that Mammadov has a two-year probation period during which he will not be allowed to leave the country.
Mammadov called the ruling "not a complete victory," saying that he and his lawyers had demanded "a full acquittal."
On August 14, the European Union said the appeals court’s decision to release Mammadov was a "welcome step."
"The European Union has been following Mammadov’s case very closely together with the Council of Europe," said a statement by Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Mammadov was arrested in February 2013 and charged with helping organize riots in the town of Ismayilli, northwest of Baku. He was sentenced to 7 years in jail in March 2014.
The opposition leader has insisted that the case against him was politically motivated.
In April, the Republican Alternative opposition movement announced it was now a political party, but said it would not seek formal registration by the state.
Rights groups and Western governments have for years urged Azerbaijani authorities to release Mammadov and other political prisoners in the oil-rich South Caucasus country, and criticized the former Soviet republic's government for persistent clampdowns targeting independent journalists and rights defenders.
President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the Caucasus nation of almost 10 million people with an iron fist since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism.