Dear Decent People in Azerbaijani Jails, dear Leyla, dear Arif,
We have never met, though I also worked in and on Azerbaijan for several years. I did focus on more technical work, which is why I assume our paths never crossed. Some of my friends have known you for a long time, and so I was aware of the work you did. I began being more concerned about what was happening in Azerbaijan when Ilgar Mammadov was locked up in February 2013, whom I knew from work, and had always held in very high respect.
I am writing this letter to say just how inspiring I found what you have done. You stood up, consistently, for political ideas that put people first. This is not necessarily always popular, and sometimes it is even dangerous, as we have now seen. Yet to do so, and to stand up for people and for decent values is so critically important, as it creates spaces for decency.
I read somewhere, maybe in the recollections of a dissident, that as a prisoner you exchange space for time. You have a tiny room, but almost endless hours. That is not a happy thought, but perhaps time, too, is a reminder that there is a long line and even tradition of people that reaches back into the deep past, of people who have stood up in the face of danger and oppression. It may also be a reminder that often those that stood up for the right thing prevailed, eventually, unlikely as it may have seemed at first. Of course it’s easy to say from a distance, but I am convinced that time ultimately is with those who fight for a more decent world that puts people first, more than power or money.
Unlike others who are writing these letters, I am writing this just as a private citizen, from another country. That is a limitation. Those writing from organizations will continue to push for your release, and they will continue to show to the Azerbaijani government — and the world — that treating your citizen well is better advertisement than buying expensive ads on CNN.
Yet that I write as a private citizen is also, perhaps, a sign of strength: it’s a signal that private citizens around the world are noticing that many decent Azerbaijani people have been jailed. This is an important message. We care, and will continue to care, and will continue to be inspired by you, and by the many brave people in Azerbaijan that stand up for the right thing, and for other people.
All the best,
Dr. Hans F. Gutbrod