Azerbaijaini political activist and blogger Zaur Gurbanli was detained by police on 29 September. Gurblani was part of the Sing For Democracy campaign, which drew attention to Azerbaijan’s human rights record during this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in the capital Baku.
After refusing to answer questions on the whereabouts of the Nida Civic Movement board member for two days, on 1 October the Ministry of Internal Affairs charged Gurbanli with possession of illegal documents.
Gurbanli joins up to 70 political prisoners in Azerbaijani jails.
Today the Parliamentary Assembly at the Council of Europe (PACE) will debate Special Rapporteur on Political Prisoners Christopher Strasser’s report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, which sets out clearly what defines a political prisoner. Clear definitions should make it difficult for the Azerbaijaini government to deny that individuals continue to be held on political charges.
Strasser has repeatedly been denied access to Azerbaijan to carry out his mandate.
Prominent investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilov, who was the victim of a vicious blackmail campaign earlier this year , notes that “every journalist in Azerbaijan is a potential political prisoner from the very moment when he or she starts telling the truth”. She has distributed a letter to the assembly, calling for Council of Europe politicians to adopt Strasser’s report and to stop the government of Azerbaijan’s silencing of “critical voices”.
The arrest of Gurbanli, coupled with last week’s revelation that MP Gular Ahmadova offered a million-dollar bribe for a seat in parliament, demonstrates once again the government’s hostility to open debate, democratic processes and transparency.
Ahmadova also accused Khural Khural newspaper editor Avaz Zeynalli of attempted bribery, resulting in criminal charges against him for which he faces up to 12 years’ imprisonment.