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Azerbaijani blogger’s hunger strike enters 13th day

8 January 2019
Mehman Huseynov (coe.int)

A hunger strike by imprisoned anti-corruption blogger Mehman Huseynov has entered it’s 13th day in Azerbaijan.

Huseynov began his strike on 26 December after new charges of injuring a prison officer were brought against him. The blogger, who was due to be released in two months, insisted the accusation was a lie and began a hunger strike.

Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 for libelling the police after claiming three months earlier that officers had beaten him and demanded he stop his anti-corruption activities.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s Commissioner for Human Rights said that representatives of the commissioner’s office had visited Huseynov in prison, and that he had ended his strike and was now under a doctor’s supervision and in good health, according to Report.az

Huseynov’s brother Emin Huseynov denied this, telling OC Media that ‘Mehman continues the hunger strike’.

Emin, who lives abroad and runs the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) along with his brother, said that Mehman was consuming only water, but that on Monday he drank some milk on the advice of doctors after facing stomach problems.

According to him, his brother has come under intense pressure from prison officials to stop the strike.

He said that Mehman had told him by phone that he intended to continue until the new charges against him were dropped.

Speaking through his lawyer Shahla Humbatova in a post on Facebook, Huseynov said he was willing to die if his demands were not met.

‘Hundreds of political prisoners have fallen victim of false accusations, but this has not changed anything.’

‘The situation remains as it was and gets even worse. So we should go a little further and offer a more valuable sacrifice in order to change something.’

‘Now it’s not enough to sacrifice freedom, we must sacrifice our lives. I'm ready for that. My death may shake society, push the reactions of international organisations and states, and prevent the things that are being done to me from being done to others. I can’t see any other way.’

Actions in support of Huseynov

After Huseynov announced his hunger strike, a group of youth activists organised several unauthorised marches in Baku over the last few days in support of the blogger. Seven people were detained during a rally on Saturday but all have since been released.

Six members of the opposition Musavat party and several other political activists have announced they will join a hunger strike in support of Huseynov.

Tofig Yagublu, a member of the Musavat party who is on his 5th day of hunger strike at the party’s headquarters, told OC Media that they intended to continue until new charges against Huseynov were dropped.

‘The hunger strike is a practice common mostly in non-democratic states. In a state with no fair trial system or law enforcement, a hunger strike is the only way of fighting against political injustice. We are ready to stop the strike when the new charges [against Huseynov] are dropped.’

‘Otherwise, we will go as far as we can; we don’t know how this is going to end. We cannot stand indifferent to injustice. This is our way of peaceful struggle. We have no other choice.’, said Yagublu.

On Monday, the Musavat party announced they would hold a rally on 12 January demanding Huseynov be freed.

Small protests by Azerbaijanis in several cities in the Netherlands and Sweden were also held in support of Huseynov.

International reaction

International rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Right House, and Reporters Without Borders have accused the Azerbaijani government of falsely imprisoning Huseynov and have demanded his immediate release.

On Monday, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, called on the Azerbaijani authorities to drop new charges against Huseynov as they ‘lack credibility’.

In a phone conversation with Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mahmud Mammad-Guliyev, Mijatović reportedly said Huseynov should be transferred to a civilian hospital ‘where he can receive the necessary medical care’ as his condition was ‘extremely worrying’.

In a tweet on 4 January, Florida senator Marco Rubio, a member of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations committee, called charges against Huseynov ‘trumped up’ and called for him to be released.

Newspapers the Washington Post and Germany’s Die Tageszeitung also called on the Azerbaijani government to release the blogger.