Prisoner of Conscience: Saleh Rustamov, Azerbaijan
In November 2021 Saleh Rustamov, an Azerbaijani opposition leader and activist, went on a hunger strike for 41 days. Earlier, in February 2021, this member of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, APFP, was sentenced – along with two other senior members of the party – to seven years in jail for money laundering and drug crimes.
His lawyer, Bahruz Bayramov, has told Azerbaijani media that his client’s health was getting worse and he that he had lost a lot of weight.
Rustamov was arrested in 2018 when he returned to Azerbaijan from Russia. He was initially accused of drug possession but later he was sentenced for sending more than $400,000 to а bank account linked to the APFP.
The political activist denied any wrongdoing, saying that while he had sent financial support to the families of political prisoners, the funds had not exceeded $10,000. During the trial, Rustamov said that he had been tortured to confess.
Earlier in December, a group of people took to the streets of Azerbaijani capital, Baku, to protest his sentence and called for his immediate release. Local media reported that police used violence to disperse the rally and even arrested some of the demonstrators.
A number of local and international human rights organisations have said that the activist was sentenced on trumped up charges and called for his release.
In December Stefan Schennach and Richard Bacon, the rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the monitoring of Azerbaijan, expressed their serious concern about Rustanov’s health.
“Mr Rustamov`s case is one of many examples of the lack of independence of the justice system, illustrated by a long-standing pattern of repression of the government’s critics which is a major concern in Azerbaijan,” the rapporteurs said in a statement. They also addressed Baku’s abysmal human rights track record.
The U.S. State Department also joined the calls for Rustanov’s release. “Opposition politicians, human rights defenders, and independent journalists continue to be harassed and reports of torture and other ill-treatment of government critics in detention remain widespread.”
“We are deeply troubled by reports of Saleh Rustamov’s worsening condition. It is urgent that Azerbaijan release him on humanitarian grounds so he can receive adequate medical care,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a tweet.
A month earlier the Norwegian Helsinki Committee also urged the Azerbajdani authorities to free Rustanov. In April civil rights activists called for his and others' activists' release from prison.
Disclaimer: As of May 2022, Saleh Rustamov is still in prison, serving the remainder of his sentence.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many.
Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website.