He is described as a jailer of supporters of freedom, a corrupt leader, plundering resources from his own people and known for his weakness for gambling. But looks like the President of Azerbaijan is earning a new title for himself: “the bone collector.”
The list of murdered journalists
Two days before his death in 2009, journalist and editor-in-chief of Azerbaijani minority paper
Novruzali Mammadov complained about poor medical conditions and the low quality of treatment he was receiving in prison. Mammadov died of a heart condition two days later.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government and inciting anti-religious sentiments in 2007.
Other journalists who died on Ilham Aliyev’s watch include Elmar Huseynov, editor-in-chief of
magazine gunned down in 2005, Alim Kazimli, a photojournalist killed in 2005, and Rafig Tagi, who was stabbed outside his home in 2011 and died in hospital in murky circumstances.
The most recent death of a young journalist, Rasim Aliyev, who was brutally attacked over a Facebook post and died of internal bleeding hours later allegedly due to lack of medical assistance, sent shockwaves throughout Azerbaijan.
But if Aliyev’s contempt for journalists is well-known given the sheer number of jailed writers currently behind bars, it is still hard to explain what he had against the innocent victims of a residential building fire on May 19? The building was covered with “quality facing” as part of the so-called “beautification” scheme launched by the government ahead of the European Games and touted by the president himself.
Possible deaths in the pipeline
The list of deaths does not stop here. There may be more casualties of Aliyev’s unsatiated thirst for control in the pipeline.
On August 13, he practically signed a death sentence for the prominent activist couple, Leyla and Arif Yunus. Although capital punishment was abolished in 1998, and the ban came into full force in 2001, it is hard to describe the recent sentence of the Yunus couple as anything but a death sentence.
The Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Leyla, 59, and Arif Yunus, 60, to 8.5 and 7 years in prison respectively. Leyla Yunus said after the prosecutor asked the judge for lengthy jail terms: “You have issued a death sentence for us. Neither mine nor Arif’s health will let us stay in jail for a long time.”
In late July, the court refused a motion by defense lawyers to release Leyla and Arif to house arrest. Both Arif and Leyla are seriously ill. Leyla suffers from diabetes and hepatitis C, while Arif has a heart condition and has suffered two strokes.
The couple also faces separate charges of treason, which could carry a life sentence.
Leyla Yunus is the founder of Peace and Democracy Institute in Azerbaijan, and one of the authors of the country’s most recent political prisoners list. She is also a long-time contributor to reconciliation efforts with neighboring Armenia. It would not be an exaggeration to say she probably did more work in bringing the sides together than the current president himself.
Similarly, her husband Arif Yunus, a well-respected historian and political scientist, was recently
by the couple’s dear friend, Thomas de Waal, as “the most prolific and dedicated chronicler of Azerbaijan since independence.”
Other people behind bars and awaiting a “death sentence” include
, the founder of the Human Rights Club and coordinator of the ‘Sing for Democracy Campaign,’ and award-winning investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, who has repeatedly shamed the regime for its corruption.
So why is Ilham Aliyev, who routinely praises his government’s prowess and indomitable strength, so keen on sentencing these people to “death”? Apart from the obvious –silencing dissidents and preempting others – is there some other motive that underpins his actions?
Whatever the reasons are, to an outsider it looks like “the bone collector” is desperate for a new toy in his collection.
*Esma Watson is a pseudonym of an Azerbaijani writer.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Meydan TV’s editorial policy.