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The persecution of the exiled

In the third part of a series of articles on the breakdown of Azerbaijani civil society, Azerbaijani democracy activist Ahmad Mammadli writes about the persecution of Azerbaijani activists in exile.

For the past three years in Azerbaijan (after the Second Karabakh War), articles about those imprisoned will be divided into three parts: the arrests of religious people, the arrests against political organizations and civil society, and the arrests faced by those who were deported to Azerbaijan when they returned from abroad.

Read the first part here.

Read the second part here.

PART III – The persecution of the exiled

In the third and final part of the article, we will discuss the deportation and imprisonment of those who have emigrated to foreign countries due to political pressures in Azerbaijan. I will also include individuals who have been abducted from foreign countries and brought to Azerbaijan.

First and foremost, while writing this article, communication has been established with both the families of political exiles and human rights defenders. Therefore, this article can also be referred to as a compilation of interviews with the families of political exiles.

It should be noted that the relatives of those who have gone into political exile in Azerbaijan also face political persecution.

If we start chronologically, we can begin by discussing the abduction of investigative journalist Afqan Muxtarli. His journalistic activities disturbed the Azerbaijani state, leading to his abduction in May 2017 from Tbilisi and his transfer to Baku.

He was sentenced first to 11 months in prisos, and then at another occasion to 6 years. Amnesty International recognized Muxtarli as a “prisoner of conscience.” Another interesting case is that of Rasad Ramazanov, who left the country to prepare for political asylum after facing political persecution.

When arriving in Baku, he was arrested once again. During detention he was subjected to police abuse. Later, he was charged with drug-related offenses, and his sentence was increased to an indefinite period.

Deportations from Europe

In the summer of 2023, we witnessed the deportation of activists from Germany to Azerbaijan. Samir Aşurov, Jafar Mirzayev, Pünhan Karimli, Malik Rzayev, Mütallim Orucov, Ziya Ibrahimli, and Emin Malikov were among those deported from Germany to Azerbaijan.

These deportees were subsequently arrested on political grounds. Also, Anar Aliyev, who had returned from Germany to visit his family during their summer vacation, was arrested in Azerbaijan. Anar Aliyev had actively participated in actions against the Azerbaijani government while in Germany. He was arrested on drug-related charges and sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Among the deported activists, no verdict has been reached yet in the case of Samir Aşurov, and his trial has been ongoing for over a year. His spouse, Nurana Aşurova, was living with their two young children in a rented apartment in Baku.

The reason for their eviction was cited as the inconvenience caused to the landlord by the police. Feeling that her life and the lives of her children were in danger, Nurana Aşurova fled to Georgia, where she was granted asylum after appealing to the Georgian State Security Service.

Another detained activist is Pünhan Karimli, a member of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, who was arrested upon his return to Baku and subjected to police abuse. Later, he was charged with drug-related offenses, initially receiving a 6-year sentence, which was later reduced to 5 years on appeal.

Flawed decisions by European migration agencies

Emin Malikov’s situation is particularly dire. Having faced persecution in Azerbaijan due to his involvement in actions against the government while in Germany, he was subjected to violence. Upon deportation from Germany to Azerbaijan, he was subjected to severe police abuse.

Even his friends held a protest action in June 2023 in front of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the German Embassy in Azerbaijan to draw attention to Emin Malikov and other deportees.

Another member of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Mütallim Orucov, was sentenced to 7 years in prison after being charged with mass drug trafficking. Malik Rzayev, another deportee, also received a 7-year prison sentence.

Among the political exiles, Jafar Mirzayev lived in Russia for an extended period and, upon returning to Azerbaijan, was once again arrested, this time in Germany on November 25, 2021. He returned to Azerbaijan on January 27, 2022, where he was arrested. His arrest is linked to his involvement in activism against the Azerbaijani government in Germany.

Following their deportation from Germany, the only activist who has been detained and subsequently released is Ziya Ibrahimli. Zafar Ahmədov, who continuously monitors the arrests of political exiles, states that in 2023, an additional 3 activists who were deported to Azerbaijan have been arrested and are currently in detention.

However, the identities of these individuals are being kept secret. Furthermore, Ahmadov expresses concerns about further negative developments by the Azerbaijani state regarding the issue of political exiles.

In addition to the deported activists in Azerbaijan, it’s also worth mentioning blogger Mahamməd Mirzali, who sought political asylum in France in 2016. In parallel to his exile, he was the victim of an assassination attempt in 2020 and 2021. In 2017, his father and sister’s spouse were arrested, and there were threats to distribute his sister’s intimate images.

Another recent issue of importance is the exile of Irada Bayramova, the spouse of Gubad Ibadoghlu, the chairman of the Azerbaijan Democratic and Prosperous Party, who is currently in detention.

Irada Bayramova was detained in Baku along with her spouse and subjected to violence by the police. Later, she had to leave for Sweden. This information was shared by her daughter and human rights defender, Zhala Bayramova, on her Twitter page.

About the Author: Ahmad Mammadli is a political activist in Azerbaijan. He is the former president of the Social Democratic initiative Democracy 1918, which in September, just before the aggression of Nagorno-Karabakh, decided to upheld its operations due to persecution from the government.