Six Years’ Jail for Leading NGO Head in Azerbaijan

Hasan Huseynli’s works on seemingly innocuous educational issues, but his case matches others involving rights activists and political dissidents.

Hasan Huseynli, a prominent civil society activist in Azerbaijan, has been jailed for six years in what local advocates describe as the latest case in crackdown on independent voices.

Huseynli, who ran an educational charity Intelligent Citizen in the country’s second largest city, Ganja (360km from Baku), was detained on March 30 and charged with hooliganism on bases of stabbing a man. Huseynli has consistently denied the alleged incident ever took place.

Huseynli’s lawyer, Elchin Sadiqov says he has shown the prosecution being completely false during the trial.

“The most important point is that we have grounds to suspect that the victim and the eyewitnesses were collaborating with the Ganja city police. The court did not respond to our requests for information about cases in which they [eyewitnesses] had previously taken part, and for the video recordings of the location where this incident took place,” said Sadiqov. “Although the victim in this case said the knife belonged to Hasan Huseynli, the [forensic] examination did not offer a clear explanation of the fingerprints on it. The evidence given by the victim and the witnesses contradicted each other.”

Despite these inconsistencies and unanswered questions, Huseynli was convicted and sentenced on July 16 to six years.

Khalid Bagirov, a lawyer from the opposition REAL movement, said the case bore uncanny similarities to several other [cases] brought against human rights and political activists recently.

For instance, Musavat party member Yadigar Sadiqov was jailed in January of this year for assault, even though Sadigov numerously said it was the alleged victim who attacked him instead (See

Opposition Figure Jailed in Azerbaijan

 for further details).

“These are the people specially used by the police to file complaints”, Bagirov added. “Then a fraudulent medical examination finds evidence of trauma. There are no independent courts or law enforcement bodies in Azerbaijan [to prove otherwise].”

The United States embassy in Azerbaijan said the charges against Huseynli were “extremely suspicious”.

“The US embassy [in Baku] has worked closely with Huseynli and his organization on student exchange programs and English-language training programs”, said the Embassy statement. “Given his mild manner and history of promoting civic engagement and education, it is virtually impossible to believe Huseynli used a knife against a local resident, as the prosecution claimed. Huseynli is among a growing number of civil society activists sentenced to lengthy prison terms in Azerbaijan” read the rest of the statement.

Mehman Aliyev, head of Turan news agency, said the government had consistently tried to control independent voices in the course of the past 12 years since Ilham Aliyev first came to power.

“The toughest situation is in the regions, and it is getting worse. The heads of the local authorities are turning into khans. They are exerting serious pressure and people live in fear,” added Aliyev. “The NGOs that remain are in a bad state already and their situation is only getting worse”.

Aliyev added, “This country’s oil reserves are running out, so the government is heading off future protests about living conditions by taking primitive preventive actions”.

IWPR contacted Mikail Zeynalov, deputy head at the Ganja municipality, to get an official comment on local authorities’ involvement in pressuring independent NGOs. Zeynalov hung up already on the first question.

Aydin Mirzazade, a member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party’s political council, dismissed the very idea that the government was harassing civil society.

“None of this has any basis in fact. The media is free, and NGOs too can function”, he said. “No one gets arrested for their actions. If someone fails to obey the law, that’s his own personal problem”, added Mirzazade.

Intelligent Citizen was one of the few organisations operating independently in Ganja. Inactive since Huseynli’s arrest, its focus was on education, including helping young people in studying abroad (See

Another Azeri NGO Leader Out of Circulation

for more).

Tural Balabeyli, currently a student in the United States, said he could not speak English when he first went to the Intelligent Citizen Centre.

“Hasan Huseynli is a kind of man you were never ashamed to ask for help. I remember going to his house at midnight and saying, ‘I want to go and study in the United States – please help me’. There are dozens of people like me who have received education abroad because of him”, Balabeyli told IWPR. “The organisation ran many educational projects for young people. I haven’t seen such good NGO even in Baku”.

Ahead of trial, Huseynli said he hoped to be acquitted, but that “whatever happens, I want to address my friends and students and ask them to continue doing what I’ve done. I never gave them bad advice, I taught them to be prudent and well-educated and to serve their country”.


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