Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree pardoning 431 people, including political party politicians and opposition activists who were listed as political prisoners by various international rights groups.
The decree signed on March 16 addressed young activists Ilkin Rustamzada, Elgiz Qehreman, former Minister of Health Ali Insanov, as well as opposition parties’ representatives Gozel Bayramli, Fuad Qahramanli and Alikram Khurshidev. Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov, who sprayed graffiti on the monument of the former president Heydar Aliyev, and journalist Fikret Faramazoglu are also among the pardoned.
After being released Rustamzada said he did not expect this decision."I did not expect anything from this government. In fact, freedom of the whole country, rather than one person, is important,” Rustamzada said adding he will continue fighting for freedom.
Echoing Rustamzada Ibrahimov has said, “Nothing has ended with our release, since there are still friends [political prisoners] in jail."
Investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova tweeted on Saturday that there are still 74 political prisoners including 4 journalists who need to be released too. “Don’t relax, world! And please, no welcome messages without asking to #freethemall", wrote Ismailova.
Rights groups and Western governments have urged Azerbaijani authorities to release political prisoners for years and have accused the government of fabricating criminal cases to stifle dissent and media freedom.
Aliyev’s pardon comes days before the Novruz holiday, which Azerbaijanis celebrate as the beginning of spring on March 21. Until now, political prisoners have rarely been included in the pardon list on the eve of Novruz.
The latest amnesty decree in Azerbaijan was signed on May 24, on the eve of May 28 – Republic Day, the last year. The decree appled to 634 prisoners, 12 of them being political prisoners.
According to the list prepared by local human rights defenders, there are nearly 130 political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani authorities reject the claim that there are political prisoners in the country. They argue that so-called political prisoners have been brought to justice for unrelated crimes.