Four political prisoners were released on Friday along with other 412 prisoners as a result of a pardon decree signed by President Ilham Aliyev on March 16.
The decree covers 423 prisoners, though only 412 people were released from prison – the remaining eleven had their parole suspended.
Of the 412, only five were considered political prisoners: Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Youth Committee activist Elvin Abdullazada, Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Youth Committee activist and blogger Abdul Abilov and two relatives of Ganimat Zahid – editor-in-chief of Azadliq newspaper.
Nazim Aghabayov, brother in law of Meydan TV’s director Emin Milli, is also among the pardoned prisoners.
The names of these people were among other political prisoners names which were sent to the pardon commission by various human rights organizations.
Assessing the decree as “a positive step”, human rights defender Saadat Benenyarli says “of course [she] would be happier if at least ten more people were pardoned”.
Lawyer Alimammad Nuriyev, who is also a member of the Azerbaijan Pardon Commission, said that the role of the commission is to assist the president in the decision making process rather than to dictate names and prisoners in particular.
Many have criticized the commission because its suggestions on the list are not considered seriously by the presidential administration. Pardoning prisoners is the president’s right alone in Azerbaijan. Some argue that this right gives the president de-facto authority to keep a prisoner in jail. Information on the decision making process of whether or not the commission puts forward a name is not made public.
Human rights’ defender Rasul Jafarov says that in the context of political prisoner problem in Azerbaijan, the March 16 decree will not solve the issue. Political prisoners such as prominent opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov, opposition newspaper Azadliq journalist Seymur Hezi, member of the Azerbaijani Popular Front opposition party Ilkin Rustamzade still remain in prison.
There are more than 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, claims Amnesty International.