Azerbaijan: Imprisoned Journalists Demand Amnesty

Three imprisoned journalists in Azerbaijan—Khadija Ismayilova, Gilal Mamedov, and Parviz Gashimli—demanded amnesty from the government, according to their lawyers as reported on the Caucasian Knot and Meydan TV.

Khadija IsmayilovaKhadija IsmayilovaThe journalists re-asserted they were not guilty of the crimes with which they were convicted. Ismayilova was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison last September.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev gave amnesty to 210 prisoners on December 28, however, that number did not include human rights defenders, political prisoners or journalists still behind bars.

"We do not want a pardon,” stated Khadija Ismayilova in her statement, “We demand [the government] acquit us and to apologize for the violation of our rights."

Ismayilova’s lawyer, Yalchin Imanov said she viewed the amnesty as "an opportunity for the government to heed... common sense and correct [its] mistakes.”

Human rights defenders and civil society activists expressed their disappointment in the government for failing to free its political prisoners, according to the Caucasian Knot.

Arzu Abdullayeva, a member of the Monitoring Group of Human Rights Organizations of Azerbaijan and the head of the Azerbaijani National Committee of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, said political prisoners were not included in the presidential pardon “under the influence of the Kremlin.”

Acknowledging the deterioration of human rights in Azerbaijan and the crackdown on freedom of speech, the United States has recently taken steps to pressure the government to free its political prisoners, according to Meydan TV.

US Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the US Helsinki Commission, introduced a bill in December, to deny visas to senior Azerbaijani officials and relatives who “derive significant financial benefit” from lucrative business deals with Azerbaijan’s political elite and members of its security and judicial institutions who oppress journalists, human rights activists and political opponents.

The bill comes in response to the “appalling human rights violations” taking place in the country.

Imanov added in regards to potential US sanctions, “If [the Azerbaijani government doesn’t] have enough common sense in order to [free the journalists], then any actions that invite the government to make it right, including sanctions initiatives from the USA, are welcome.”

“The important thing is for the truth to win," he said.