Tue, 23 Apr 2019

Azerbaijani authorities have dropped a new criminal case opened against anticorruption blogger Mehman Huseynov, who is serving a two-year sentence in prison, the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office says.

'The criminal case against Mehman Huseynov has been canceled,' the press service for the prosecutor's office said on January 22, following protests and outrage from activists inside and outside Azerbaijan.

The move comes after large-scale demonstrations in Baku in support of Huseynov and the adoption of a European Parliament resolution calling for his immediate release.

Huseynov is currently serving a two-year prison sentence after being convicted of libel for saying he had been mistreated by police in January 2017. He is due to be freed in March.

In late December, Huseynov was charged with 'resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to [the representative's] health and life.'

His lawyer, Shahla Humbatova, said at the time that Huseynov could have faced up to and additional seven years in prison if convicted on the charge.

Huseynov has maintained his innocence and called the original case against him politically motivated.

Just weeks before being convicted of libel, Huseynov posted photographs of luxury homes he alleged belonged to government officials and lawmakers, and had been critical of President Ilham Aliyev's appointment of his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, to the post of first vice president.

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The Prosecutor-General's Office said in its January 22 statement that the decision to drop the fresh charges against Huseynov came after human rights defenders and Huseynov himself appealed to Aliyev to ensure the objectivity of the investigation.

Based on the president's recommendation, 'The criminal case on Mehman Huseynov was terminated due to the fact that he is a young man, was not subject to disciplinary liability during his term of punishment, took the path of reform, and his old father is in need of care,' the statement said.

Thousands of people demonstrated in Baku on January 19, calling for Huseynov's release. The police put the total number of participants in the sanctioned rally at 2,800, but opposition organizers said the real number was 20,000.

Rights groups and Western governments have urged the Azerbaijani authorities to release political prisoners for years and have accused the government of fabricating criminal cases to stifle dissent and media freedom.

Aliyev, who has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic of almost 10 million people with an iron fist since shortly before his long-ruling father's death in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

In an environment of total government control over national television and radio channels, Radio Azadliq has a firm reputation as the only source of unbiased information and the most professional media outlet in Azerbaijan.

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Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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