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Azerbaijani court jails religious scholar for 20 years and journalist for 10

This statement was originally published on irfs.org on 25 January 2017.

On 25 January 2017, the Baku Grave Crimes Court chaired by Judge Alovsat Abbasov held another hearing in the criminal case of Muslim Union Movement chairman Taleh Bagirzade and others.

Taleh Bagirzade was arrested in November 2015 together with 13 other men during a raid by police on a house in the village of Nardaran, located 25 km away of Baku, where they were attending prayers. They have been standing trial since 4 August 2016 in Baku's Court for Serious Crimes. The charges include murder, terrorism, inciting religious hatred, organising mass unrest, and illegal possession of weapons. All of them deny the charges; several claim they have been subjected to torture.

Taleh Bagirzade, who studied theology abroad, has been extremebly critical of the ruling regime; for example, he denounced President Ilham Aliyev as a "zalim" or despot.

Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Deputy Chairman and journalist Fuad Gahramanli, who was not present during the incident, was apprehended on 8 December 2015. His case was merged with the criminal case of the individuals arrested over the Nardaran incidents.

On 25 January 2017, the court sentenced Taleh Bagirzade and Abbas Huseynov to 20 years in prison, Fuad Gahramanli to 10 years, Jabbar Jabbarov to 19 years, Rasim Jabrayilov to 17 years, and the young Ramin Yariyev (who was a minor) to 10 years in prison. The court also sentenced Shamil Abdulaliyev, Zakir Mustafayev, Jahad Babakishizade, Abbas Guliyev, Ibrahim Khudaverdiyev, Etibar Ismayilov, Bahruz Asgarov, Ali Nuriyev, Alibala Valiyev, Farhad Balayev and Abbas Taghizade to 14 and a half years in prison.

The public prosecutor Nasib Bayramov had initially sought extremely harsh sentences for each of the defendants


Background

On 26 November 2015, an armed incident occurred between a religious group and police officers in the Nardaran settlement of Baku, during a raid conducted by the police. According to official reports, the shootout resulted in the death of six people, including two police officers. Taleh Bagirzade, the leader of the Muslim Union Movement, and several believers were detained as part of the operation. A criminal case was launched concerning the incident by the Prosecutor General's Office of the Azerbaijan Republic.

APFP Deputy Chairman Fuad Gahramanli, who was not present during the incident, was arrested on 8 December 2015. Gahramanli's barrister Yalchin Imanov argues that he was arrested due to comments posted on Facebook in connection with security operations launched by the government in November 2015 in Nardaran. In his comments on Facebook, Fuad Gahramanli called on Muslims not to abandon the arrested Muslim Union leader and to continue the protests and struggle. Gahramanli compared Azerbaijan's government to "yezids" (corrupt tyrants).

Fuad Gahramanli, who is not a member of the Movement but yet accused of promoting their cause, was charged under Articles 220.2 (calling for active insubordination against law officers and for mass disorder, as well as violence against citizens), 281.2 (public appeals directed against the state) and 283.2.1 (instigation of national, racial, social or religious hatred and hostility, by using or threatening to use violence) of the Criminal Code.

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