Imprisoned IFEX member, blogger and chairman of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, (IRFS) Mehman Huseynov, faces new charges just two months before he is due to be released from jail; he has begun a no-liquid hunger strike in protest.
On 27 December 2018, IRFS reported that Huseynov had been charged with "resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to his health and life". If convicted, he could face up to seven years in jail.
Huseynov is currently serving a two-year prison sentence following his conviction in March 2017 on charges of slandering an entire police department.
According to IRFS, Huseynov has been placed in solitary confinement; the organisation describes the new charges as an act of "revenge" on the part of President Aliyev's regime: "an attempt to silence IRFS and stop Mehman and his colleagues at IRFS from further exposing corrupt, high-ranking officials and human rights abusers".
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports that Huseynov was denied access to legal representation for two days after he was charged, by which time, due to his hunger strike, "he was already very weak and unable to walk without assistance".
Elizabeth Rivera Rivas, IFEX's Communications Director, said: "That Mehman, the chairman of IFEX member IRFS, has been hit with these charges now – a mere two months before his due release date – smacks of another attempt by the Azerbaijani authorities to punish this outspoken blogger. We are extremely concerned about his current physical condition and we call on Azerbaijan to immediately and unconditionally release Mehman and drop all charges against him."
Human rights activist and brother of Mehman, Emin Huseynov, said: "The new charges against Mehman Huseynov stem from the criminal and corrupt nature of the ruling regime that consolidates its power each day, as the Aliyevs continue enjoying impunity for corruption and human rights violations. The current regime is essentially an organised criminal gang that steals billions of dollars from its own people every year and tries to silence its critics at any cost".
Johann Bihr, head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said: "Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate. We ask them to free this blogger as a matter of urgency and to drop the new charges against him. The international community must do everything in its power to achieve this".
Huseynov's mother, Frangiz Huseynova, died in hospital on 6 August 2018. Huseynov was denied compassionate leave to visit her before she died, and blamed the regime for her death. IRFS reports that President Aliyev sent emissaries to visit Huseynov in prison on various occasions during the final months of 2018; these messengers, IRFS says, threatened the blogger that he would be kept in jail for another couple of years if he continued to criticise the leadership of the country; he refused to be silenced.
Huseynov is a long-time critic of the corruption of President Aliyev's regime and has been targeted by the authorities on numerous occasions. In January 2017, he was kidnapped by unidentified men in Central Baku; these men turned out to be police officers who held Huseynov incommunicado until the following day. Whilst in custody he was tortured and injected with an unknown drug.
After Huseynov publicly denounced his treatment at the hands of the police, Azerbaijan's Ministry of Internal Affairs filed a suit against him, accusing him of slandering the Nasimi District Police Department. The resulting trial in March 2017 was riddled with irregularities and Huseynov was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.
Addressing the court at the time, he said: "Whatever has been ordered from above [by the government] will happen. I have not committed any crime. The trial was not conducted in a normal way, which is proof of an order [from above]. This is directly aimed at stifling freedom of speech."
#MehmanHuseynov has started a hunger strike to protest against the authority's treatment of its critics. We call on the international community to take action in ending impunity for the #Aliyev regime. #Azerbaijan #FreeMehman @IFEX @POTUS @un @FedericaMog https://t.co/bOF0w1pOzt pic.twitter.com/b3Znq4gwpC— @IRFS_ORG (@IRFS_ORG) January 1, 2019