On December 1, a group of protesters gathered in the capital Baku to call for the immediate release of jailed opposition activist and political prisoner Saleh Rustamov. According to local reports, police resorted to violence and detained some of the protest participants.
Saleh Rustamov is a member of the opposition Popular Front Party (AXCP). He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to seven years in jail in February 2019 on bogus money laundering charges. According to a Human Rights Watch country report, “The charges stem from allegations that Rustamov illegally used his company’s funds to support imprisoned party activists and party activities. Authorities held Rustamov incommunicado for 17 days and denied him access to his lawyer for a month.”
The local authorities claimed at the time of the trial that Rustamov made a total of USD 420,000 in transfers to a bank account connected to the AXCP. Rustamov denied the charges and said, although he has supported the party in the past and provided financial assistance to families of political prisoners, the transfers did not exceed USD 10,000 in total.
The activist's family and friends say the charges leveled against Rustamov are politically motivated, while the local human rights organisations have recognized Rustamov as a political prisoner.
The political activist announced his hunger strike on November 6, three days after the parliament received a draft resolution on mass amnesty list for 16,000 prisoners. The list did not include any political prisoners. According to the national rights monitoring groups, there are currently 38 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. In an interview with OC Media, Novella Jafaroglu, a member of the monitoring group, said although there were no political prisoners on the general amnesty list, the group has been advocating for a separate amnesty bill, for New Year's Eve.
On the 25th day of his hunger strike, Rustamov's family and lawyer say the activist is looking weak, having lost weight and is refusing to end the strike. Despite the calls by local human rights groups to release Rustamov, the authorities have not budged.
The unsanctioned protest organized on December 1, was an attempt to further escalate his case. “We believe that Saleh's arrest was carried out on the basis of a political order and political bias. Under no circumstances should the government use its power against its opponents in an unconstitutional manner,” said the statement circulated by the organizers of the protest, as reported by Turan News Agency.
Scores of activists were detained as a result, including former political prisoner Tofig Yagublu. His daughter, Nigar Hezi, shared pictures of her father, who was beaten during this detention.
This what Azerbaijani police made of Tofig Yagublu https://t.co/MVVvoK2FM3
— Cavid the Self-Orientalist (@cavidaga) December 1, 2021
Major Elshad Hajiyev, head of the Media and Public Relations Department of the Interior Ministry's press service, denied allegations of torture but promised investigation anyway according to reports by Turan News Agency. Hajiyev also denied the detention of women despite video reports from the scene showing otherwise.
#Azerbaijan: Today, a rally demanding the release of Saleh Rustamov – who has been on hunger strike for 26 days – was held. During the arrests, police ordered other officers to “keep them in a bad condition.” One of the protester's head was heavily injured. pic.twitter.com/r6WBQDaGwU
— Ulviyya Ali (@UlviyyaAli) December 1, 2021
⚠️ Baku, today. Police forcefully detain elderly protester in #FreeSalehRustamov protest.
⚡ 30+ protesters were detained by the police and taken in unknown directions by bus.
❗ Rustamov, imprisoned activist, is on 26th day of his hunger strike. pic.twitter.com/oEhi1kj7OF
— Mikroskop Media in English (@MikroskopEng) December 1, 2021
Another statement issued by the Ministry of the Interior said the protest was unsanctioned and was organized in violation of quarantine measures.
Hours after the protest was dispersed, several activists were reported missing, among them, Rustam Ismayilbeyli, Ilham Huseyin, and Seyyad Guliyev.
We still have no news about Ilham Huseyn, Guliyev Seyyad, and Rustam Ismayilbeyli.