Azerbaijan Detains Well-Known Opposition Leader

Azerbaijani authorities placed an opposition leader into pre-trial detention on Monday for counterfeiting and for being allied with the exiled Turkish cleric Fetullah Gullen, whom Ankara has blamed for plotting the 2016 coup.

Gubad Ibadoghlu Meydan.Tv 20Gubad Ibadoghlu, well known Azerbaijani economist and politician. (Photo: Courtesy of Meydan TV)Economist and politician Gubad Ibadoghlu, however, believes that the regime in Baku is trying to remove him from the local political scene.

“I have been detained on the orders of [Azerbaijani president] Ilham Aliyev,” Ibadoghlu told a crowd of reporters as he was placed in the back of a police car.

He will spend four months in detention after he, his wife, and several other people were detained during raids on Sunday.

Ibadoghlu and his wife were subjected to physical violence, according to their daughter, Jala Bayramova. She said her father has not been allowed to receive medications vital for his health. The wife has been released.

Ibadoghlu lives in the U.K., where he is a Senior Visiting Fellow in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics. He returned to Azerbaijan in early July because of his mother’s health issues.

Azerbaijani and Turkish pro-government media reported that at least five people had been arrested in an operation carried out by Azerbaijani authorities against the alleged terror organization FETÖ.

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs later confirmed that Ibadoghlu was indeed arrested for his alleged involvement with FETÖ, adding that the ministry was acting on information supplied by its Turkish counterpart.

FETÖ is the name given by Turkish officials to the supporters of Fethullah Gülen, a religious leader based in the U.S., whom the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the attempted coup in July 2016. Turkish authorities have carried out numerous operations against FETÖ in the last seven years, resulting in the arrest and imprisonment of thousands of people.

Azerbaijan and Turkey are close allies, especially when it comes to security issues.

Ibadoghlu’s office was searched by police who, according to his lawyer, Zibeyda Sadigova, seized dozens of documents and US$40,000.

“The money will be investigated to determine whether it is fake or not,” Sadigova said.

Initially, Ibadoghlu was slapped with counterfeiting charges carrying a sentence of five to seven years in prison. Sadigova confirmed to local media, however, that the day following his detention, authorities brought other more serious counterfeiting charges carrying an increased sentence of eight to 12 years.

Officially, the charges against Ibadoghlu are based on the testimony of another man also detained as an alleged FETÖ supporter. According to Sadigova, the detainee, Anar Aliyev, claimed that Ibadoghlu had given him a certain amount of counterfeit American dollars. Ibadoghlu’s lawyer stated that her client does not even know  Aliyev.

Apart from his academic career, Ibadoghlu is the chairman of the Azerbaijan Democracy and Prosperity Party, which authorities have refused to register. A new law that came into effect in January 2023 has raised new barriers to establishing political parties, receiving criticism from rights defenders both at home and abroad.

In June, Ibadoghlu established a foundation in the U.K. called the Azerbaijani Youth Education Foundation with fellow Azerbaijani opposition politicians Jamil Hasanli and Arif Mammadov. The professor announced on Facebook that the foundation will be funded by donations and also by money confiscated from corrupt Azerbaijani elites.

“One of the goals is to use the foundation to create a cadre of specialists for Azerbaijan’s future,” wrote Ibadoghlu. “The foundation’s source of funding will be donations. In addition, there are plans to fund it through the confiscation of money stolen from the people and economy of Azerbaijan and looted from the state.”

Ibadoghlu posted on Facebook that the foundation would appeal to the relevant authorities to request the confiscated funds. In recent years, the U.K. has seized from politically well-connected Azerbaijanis millions of dollars believed to have been obtained through money laundering.

In a subsequent post, Ibadoghlu wrote that a smear campaign had been launched against him because of the foundation.

In early July, another Azerbaijani public figure, former lawmaker Nazim Baydamirli, was arrested and sent to pre-trial detention for four months.

Baydemirli had criticized the government for failing to address the public health and environmental concerns of villagers in Gadabay in the western region of Azerbaijan. The villagers held protests against the construction undertaken by a British company of an artificial lake to collect waste from the company’s nearby mining operation.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that the allegations against the former legislator were based on an anonymous complaint. "A citizen appealed to the police and claimed that N. Baydamirli threatened them and demanded 50,000 manats (nearly $30,000) from them," the Ministry’s official statement said.