The United States and European Union have welcomed the full acquittal in Azerbaijan of a leading human rights defender and an opposition leader.
Ilqar Mammadov, chairman of the Republican Alternative Party (ReAL), and Rasul Cafarov, a prominent human rights defender and board member of ReAL, were acquitted by the Azerbaijani Supreme Court on April 23 after serving years in prison on charges that they and their supporters said were politically motivated.
In welcoming the action, the U.S. Embassy in Baku said in a statement on April 24 that Washington "would welcome further positive steps, such as ending the intimidation and detention of journalists, civil society activists, and members of the political opposition who exercise their freedom of expression."
"We remain open to continued dialogue and engagement on these and other issues for the benefit of both our peoples," the statement said.
The EU also greeted the court's decision to acquit the two men and said that it "expects Azerbaijan to live up to its international commitments."
"This judgement, which overturns their previous convictions, is a welcome step that finally fully implements the respective decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. The European Union expects Azerbaijan to live up to its international commitments and to continue to implement the remaining decisions of the European Court of Human Rights," the EU statement said.
Mammadov, who served more than five years of a seven-year prison term, fought for his full acquittal since his early release in August 2018.
He was detained in February 2013 and charged with helping stoke unrest in the town of Ismayilli, northwest of Baku. He was sentenced to seven years in jail in March 2014. Mammadov and his supporters insisted the case against him was politically motivated.
Cafarov was arrested in August 2014 and in April 2015 he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison after a court in Baku found him guilty of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of office. He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.
Cafarov was granted early release in March 2016 and worked on his full acquittal since then.
Critics of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev say authorities of the energy-rich South Caucasus state frequently jail opposition activists, reporters, human rights defenders, and civil society advocates without grounds in an effort to silence dissent.
Aliyev, who has ruled Azerbaijan since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has rejected the criticism.