Fears mount over health of Azerbaijani political prisoner
The son of Dr Gubad Ibadoghlu speaks to Index about the deteriorating health of his father, who was imprisoned on fabricated charges in 2023
11 Jul 24

Gubad Ibadoghlu was imprisoned in Azerbaijan on fabricated charges in July 2023. Credit: Ibadoghlu family

Last month, Ibad Bayramov – son of renowned economist and activist Dr Gubad Ibadoghlu – received a letter from a cardiologist based in the USA warning of an “imminent threat” to his father’s life.

“The cardiologist has recommended that my father has an aortic root aneurysm and must go under surgery as soon as possible,” Bayramov told Index. “The government falsified his medical results during the communications with the ECHR.”

This is just the latest development in the tragic case of the 52-year-old academic Ibadoghlu, who was arbitrarily detained alongside his wife in July 2023 on fabricated charges of producing, acquiring or selling counterfeit money

The move has been widely condemned as a political one by the Azerbaijani government because of Ibadoghlu’s long history of environmental activism and criticism of the state. Although his wife, Irada Bayramova, was later released, Ibadoghlu still faces charges and is now under house arrest. It means he can’t leave the country to get the medical help he needs.

His son described the harrowing ordeal to Index.

“My parents were brutally physically assaulted and psychologically abused by Azerbaijani police,” he explained. “Our mother had to be hospitalised as a result of the stress she had been going through due to police violence she faced when she was detained.”

Bayramov is one of Ibadoghlu’s three children, all of whom are fighting for their father’s release. He told Index of another man, economist Fazil Gasimov, who had been arrested in the same case and subjected to torture until he testified against Ibadoghlu.

“He was forced to provide false testimony under severe duress, including electroshock torture and having his head submerged in a toilet,” said Bayramov. 

“His government-appointed lawyer colluded with the authorities to extract these false statements.”

According to his brother, Gasimov went on a hunger strike in June in protest of the investigation against him and Ibadoghlu.

If convicted of his trumped-up charges, Ibadoghlu – who has had his pre-trial detention extended on three occasions – could face up to 17 years in prison. This would be a shocking miscarriage of justice towards a man who has spent his life fighting for environmental rights and democracy.

Since receiving his PhD in economics from Azerbaijan State University of Economics in 2000, Ibadoghlu has conducted a wide range of research, looking into corruption and money laundering in Azerbaijan as well as petro-authoritarianism and how being oil-rich impedes democracy in post-Soviet nations.

He has previously worked in a number of world-class universities, including Duke University in California and the London School of Economics, and has garnered huge respect in the academic world. A number of academics – alongside several human rights and environmental groups – signed a letter calling for his release which was sent to then-Secretary of State David Cameron in April.

Ibadoghlu’s condition becomes more critical with each passing day. His health, which already had its issues prior to his arrest, has rapidly declined. He has lost 15kg during his time in detention and requires extensive care and possible surgery which Bayramov says is beyond the capabilities of Azerbaijan’s medical system.

“We will try to transfer him to the foreign hospital as soon as possible. However, due to the travel ban he can’t leave the country to get medical assistance,” he said.

Ibadoghlu is currently under house arrest having been moved from detention on 22 April, which his son said is due to pressure on the government over his health. 

While under house arrest, Ibadoghlu is prohibited from leaving home between 10pm and 6am or from leaving the capital city of Baku at all. The authorities have to be able to contact him at all times and he has no national ID, therefore cannot register at a hospital.

His trial is currently due on 20 August, but as this date has been pushed back before, Ibadoghlu’s family are wary of getting their hopes up that this saga could end sometime soon.

This is just one of many accusations faced by the Azerbaijan government of violating the human rights of dissenters. On 3 July, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) issued a public statement detailing the refusal of the Azerbaijani authorities to co-operate with them.

In the statement, the CPT said that it “continues to receive allegations of severe acts of ill-treatment and even of torture by police officers” in the state. Such an extraordinary step demonstrates just how alarming the free speech environment in Azerbaijan has become.

The situation Ibadoghlu faces is outrageous but sadly all too common. There is no basis for his arrest, which has been made for purely political reasons. His detainment is a serious miscarriage of justice and an affront to free speech. Given his waning health, his release can’t come a moment too soon.

By Daisy Ruddock

Daisy Ruddock is editorial assistant at Index on Censorship and the 2023-24 Tim Hetherington Fellow