Voices of Baku: “These are not European Games. We are strangers in this ceremony.”

“Our fight for a free Azerbaijan is part of the fight for a freer and safer world. And, an important part,” political prisoner Yadigar Sadigov writes from jail for Meydan TV.

Yadigar Sadigov, an advisor to the chairman of opposition Musavat Party, was arrested on June 27, 2013 on charges of hooliganism for allegedly beating up a disabled war veteran. On January 13, 2014, he was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment in a trial largely seen as unfair and politically motivated by human rights groups. In July last year, his sentence was reduced to four years following an appeal.

Sadigov is prominent intellectual and former history professor at the Lankaran State Univesity, who was expelled for his critical thinking. In 2003, more than 500 students reportedly boycotted classes in protest at attempts to expel him from the university, leading to Sadigov’s reinstatement. This piece contains Sadigov’s ruminations from jail for Meydan TV on the now-unfolding European Games.

All prisons are the same but this one

In Azerbaijan, all detention facilities, except for two prisons in the Penitentiary Service built in the past two years, are way too far from modern standards. The worst one is prison number 14 where I am being held. Located in a desert-like place, surrounded by stone quarries, this jail was built more than 50 years ago. Considering its age, particularly the fact that it is a remnant from the totalitarian Soviet regime, a detailed description is needless.

Whenever the wind blows, the dust raised from the quarries whirls around. No words would describe this picture, one should see it.

Being held at this place is dangerous to human life. Being held in such a prison is in fact an act of torture in itself.

According to the legislation (Article 16.1 of the Code of Execution of Punishments), I was supposed to be sent to another jail, close to the place of living. However for the Azerbaijani government, it did not suffice to just arrest me but the added “bonus” of sending me here.

These days, the European Games are unfolding in the capital. Undemocratic regimes always use this kind of events for their own promotion. Unfortunately, international sports institutions do not take this into consideration. They have not advanced from the mindset that allowed the Olympic Games to take place in Nazi Germany back in 1936. (By the way, when I read about the “traitor” label applied to those who do not cheer for the European Games, it is impossible not to recall Goebbels’s words during the 1936 Olympics: “Unfortunately the number of traitors in our society is still not little, and we should expose and punish them”.)

The causes of such cases are easier to understand in the light of the recent scandal around FIFA. Apparently, cooperation with leaders of undemocratic and non-transparent countries works better for the corrupt sports officials.

Europe’s most unfree country

The problem is not only in my imprisonment. What they are doing to me is not an exception. This is already a state policy, not an isolated outrage of some official, police or judge. Pity. Today in my country human rights are violated in a total manner, with the number of political prisoners nearing three digits.

Azerbaijan has become Europe’s most non-free country, and this is the official policy of the government and the political will of the leader of the state. Europe should not stay indifferent toward this.

For certain reasons, my piece will reach you late. Only after it becomes clear that the Games are not boycotted by participating athletes… In fact, this was expected. However, I would like specifically to mention that for one year Musavat Party, whose leadership I am affiliated with, has been declaring that it would boycott the European Games if the political prisoners are not free. A Majlis session of Musavat Party in April 2015 made this decision.

Strategy of boycott

I am aware that the party’s officials have corresponded with the relevant sports and human rights groups as well as a number of democratic countries. On June 2, Musavat Party called on European leaders “to refuse to participate in the opening ceremony of the First European Games” held in Baku unless political prisoners are released and human rights are observed. The party has

de facto

made the call. Subsequently, an overwhelming majority of the European states declared that they would not participate in the ceremony. While these games are called European, in fact they are boycotted by the Europeans, and joined by the Asian leaders.

No doubt that Musavat Party will have to “pay” for this resilience after the European Games. There will be a new round of political prisoners among Musavatists.

Europe should stand by its values, and not act like nothing is happening in Azerbaijan. Within years we, the Azerbaijani democrats, have been busy defending European values from unprincipled European politicians.

“We are all strangers in this ceremony.”

The international community should avoid accommodating the rules and conditions of the Azerbaijani government. İn recent years, when Western officials would visit Baku, or representatives of their embassies would go to the province, they were afraid of meeting with oppositioners as they did not want to incense the government. This case is an example of the accommodation I’m talking about.

Such shameful cases should be brought to an end. People who fight for freedom must be provided with more open venues of political and moral support. Our fight for a free Azerbaijan is part of the fight for a freer and safer world. And, an important part.

All the cases of political prisoners must be reviewed early, and, if possible, as a priority. Activists here, especially during recent years, have been handed severe punishments and drawn-out trials. They wait for years for their trial while losing health.

I do not want my country to become isolated. However, the experience of more than 20 years shows that prioritizing energy and security over human rights and freedoms only produces negative results. Europe should not suffocate itself in Baku’s INOGATE framework, and turn democratic reforms and the principle of respect to human rights into a priority within the cooperation. (


is an international energy co-operation program between the EU, the littoral states of the Black and Caspian seas and their neighboring countries, of which Azerbaijan is a partner.)

Bear in mind that Azerbaijan is not less interested in energy cooperation than the West. In a country where the non-energy sector is only at the embryonic stage, hydrocarbons are the only source of wealth. This invalidates the argument that the West is tolerating the Azerbaijani government’s naughtiness because of energy interests. Europe should distinctly demonstrate this baselessness in its policies.

Will I be watching these Games from jail? As Ostap Bender, a fictional character of Russian novel

The Twelve Chairs

written by Ilf and Petrov, says: “We are all strangers in this ceremony.”

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