One of the opposition leaders and member of ALDE Party member party Musavat has been arrested days after the President of Azerbaijan suggested he would use measures supposedly designed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic to crackdown on the opposition.
In his annual address to the nation on 19 March for the Nowruz spring holiday, President Ilham Aliyev outlined his country’s response to the coronavirus and made a stark warning that while the government was acting decisively there were “provocations” coming from a “fifth column” alluding to critics and opposition voices.
Three days later, prominent opposition leader and ardent government critic, Tofiq Yagublu, was arrested, held on three months in pretrial custody, pending investigation on charges of ‘hooliganism committed with a weapon or an object used as a weapon’ which carries a potential sentence of up to six years.
Mr Yagublu, a former political prisoner, is a member of the opposition Musavat party and a senior politician in the National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties and activists in Azerbaijan. As a former journalist, he has frequently raised human rights concerns in Azerbaijan.
Musavat believes that the incident against Tofiq Yagublu was a politically motivated and demands the immediate release of Tofiq Yagublu and the prosecution of the real culprits. Yagublu also denies the charges.
The party have now established a committee to monitor and protect the rights of Tofig Yagublu.
In a statement, the Committee said: “At a time when the world community's attention is focused on the Covid 19 coronavirus pandemic, a global threat to humanity, the Aliyev government has stepped up further repressive measures against the political opposition.”
“On March 22, Musavat Party member Tofiq Yagublu faced an unprecedented provocation. The provocateurs hit Tofig Yagublu's parked car with their car and then attacked him. Tofiq Yagublu appealed to the police in connection with the attack. However, police officers who arrived at the scene, not the provocateurs, arrested Tofiq Yagublu himself and charged him under Article 221.3 of the Criminal Code. On March 23, the Nizami District Court sentenced Tofiq Yagublu to three months in prison without any legal grounds,” it continued.
“The fact that this incident took place immediately after Ilham Aliyev's open threats against the opposition leaves no doubt that Tofiq Yagublu was arrested on the direct political order of the President.”
The arrest has prompted a reaction from Human Rights Watch, an urgent action from Amnesty International and criticism from the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović:
The ALDE Party continues to closely follow the situation. At its last Congress in Athens in October 2019, the ALDE Party reaffirmed its call for all political prisoners to be released in Azerbaijan.