President Ilham Aliyev at a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Moscow.

President Ilham Aliyev at a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Moscow.

In a significant yet controversial move, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan signed an order on May 25 pardoning 154 convicted individuals. According to the decree, 63 people sentenced to imprisonment were released from the unpaid portion of their sentences.

While the act of granting pardons was hailed as a positive gesture by some, it has also sparked criticism for not including prominent journalists and political prisoners. Novella Jafaroglu, Chairperson of the Society for the Protection of Women's Rights named after Dilara Aliyeva, expressed her disappointment to Turan News Agency: "The signing of pardon orders is always a positive step; people in prison are released and reunited with their families. However, it is unfortunate that journalists with court decisions against them were not included, nor were any individuals on our advocacy list."

Jafaroglu called for changes within the pardon commission, suggesting that heads and editors of journalistic organizations, as well as human rights defenders, should meet with President Aliyev to discuss the situation regarding journalists.

Human rights defender Rufat Safarov voiced his skepticism about the pardon order to Radio Azadliq, noting that he did not have high expectations for the release of political prisoners: "I did not expect the release of the approximately 300 individuals recognized by local and international organizations as political prisoners. Some hoped that recent international criticism might soften the authorities' stance, but this did not happen."

Safarov emphasized that this pardon order is notable for its exclusion of political prisoners, stating, "I believe this pardon order does not serve the socio-political and legal interests of Azerbaijani society."

In contrast, members of the presidential pardon commission defended the decision. MP Fazil Mustafa, a member of the commission, told Turan that the order was the result of three months of discussions: "The President was presented with the outcomes of these discussions, leading to the signing of this order. This is a traditional pardon, aimed at providing opportunities for reformed individuals to reintegrate into society."

Mustafa described the pardon as a humanitarian act reflecting the President's intention to offer people a second chance, adding, "I am not aware of anyone being recognized as a political prisoner. Human rights organizations have lists, but we discuss cases based on the documents submitted to us. Without documentation, there is no discussion."

Opposition figures remain unconvinced by the government's stance. Gultekin Hajibeyli, a member of the Coordination Council of the opposition National Council, rejected claims that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Speaking to Radio Azadliq, Hajibeyli argued that the latest pardon order indicates a continuation of repressive policies: "Ilham Aliyev's approach is one of tightening control. Repression against civil society and the opposition will intensify, undermining the political environment."

Hajibeyli also criticized the Azerbaijani government's diplomatic strategy, suggesting that it no longer satisfies Western expectations: "Previously, pardoning one or two political prisoners would ease tensions with the West. However, as indicated in U.S. President Joe Biden's Republic Day letter to Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan must now respect the rights and freedoms of its citizens."

The previous pardon order, signed on May 8, 2023, covered 801 prisoners, with 463 individuals being released, including several recognized by human rights defenders as political prisoners. Local human rights organizations currently estimate that there are between 250 and 300 political prisoners in Azerbaijani prisons. Government officials, however, deny these claims, asserting that all convictions are based solely on criminal activities.


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