Yagublu’s hunger strike prompts public protest in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani activists protest Yagublu’s conviction and sentencing on trumped up charges.

Azerbaijani activists in Baku have come together to back an opposition politician on the seventh day of his hunger strike and protest his conviction and sentencing on trumped up charges.

Musavatist Tofig Yagublu, who is also known as a member of the opposition block National Council, was sent to jail for four years and three months, after he was detained due to a car incident which occurred in Baku's Nizami district on 22 March.

“While the traffic accident was Tofig Yagublu's own fault, he argued and punched and attacked the other car's driver Elkhan Jabrailov and passenger, his wife Javahir Jabrailova, with a screwdriver, causing them serious injuries,” the Interior Ministry said in an official statement.

Yagublu denied the charges of hooliganism calling his arrest politically motivated.

In his closing remarks in court on Wednesday, he announced he would go on a hunger strike in protest of the “unfair” process of the trial.

Yagublu's lawyer Nemat Karimli said that he is experiencing serious health issues due to the hunger strike, and has lost 8 kilograms in the last week. He added that the court decision would be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights very soon.

A number of human rights activists described Yagublu's arrest as another crackdown on the opposition.

The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly denied allegations of politically motivated arrests in the country, yet charges of hooliganism are commonly against oppositional figures.

Nigar Hazi, Yagublu's daughter, said her family was worried about her father's health, saying the Azerbaijani government must respond if anything happens to the politician.

“(Azerbaijani President) Ilham Aliyev has two options, either to release Tofig Yagublu or to take responsibility for his death,” Hazi was quoted as saying.

The presidential administration has yet to comment on the arrest.

Hazi also said that her father's hunger strike is being portrayed as if he were suffering from a mental impairment.

Yagublu's lawyer Agil Layic told BBC News Azerbaijani Service that his client had been asked to sign an act stating that he was “not in proper psychological condition”. Yagublu refused.

The lawyer said that the only reason for Yagublu's hunger strike was the “unfair trial”.

“Tofig Yagublu says his arrest is due to his activities, the charges must be dropped, he must be released immediately and compensated. He said he would continue his hunger strike until he is released.”

Hundreds of signatures were collected on social media demanding Yagublu's release from prison. Facebook users changed their profile pictures, calling for the government to free Yagublu. Posts about his release became the most shared topics for days on social media platforms.

Social media users wrote hundreds of comments on the president's official Facebook page urging Aliyev to release the politician.

Although the comment section of the page was shortly closed, later it was reopened again.

“The accusations are false, fabricated and unjust,” says Hazi. According to her, Yagublu's arrest is connected with his political activities and critical posts on social media.

“A while ago Tofig Yagublu was given an administrative sentence for a month. Having been mistreated in jail he was warned that if he continues to write, they will rearrest him,” Hazi was cited as saying.

Yagublu's arrest came after Aliyev called the opposition “irresponsible people” in March, and demanded the authorities eliminate “the enemies inside [Azerbaijan]… from the so-called opposition, from the traitors who receive money from abroad.”

“Their main goal is to destroy Azerbaijan," Aliyev said in his Novruz speech, elaborating that the isolation of the opposition members would be “a historical necessity.”

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