BAKU — Police in Baku have detained dozens of demonstrators demanding the immediate release of hunger-striking Azerbaijani opposition politician Tofiq Yaqublu, who was sentenced to more than four years in prison on hooliganism charges which he and his supporters call “bogus.”
The demonstrators initially planned to rally in front of the building of the Constitutional Court in Baku on September 9, but police blocked all ways leading to the site as dozens of protesters gathered on central Azerbaijan Avenue.
The demonstrators were holding posters saying “Freedom to Tofiq Yaqublu” and chanting “Free Tofiq!” as police arrived and started detaining them and forcing them onto buses.
Yaqublu’s daughter, Nigar Hazi-Yaqublu, well-known public figures Baxtiyar Haciyev, Rabiyya Mammadova, and journalist Fatima Movlamli, were among at least 20 people detained by police, RFE/RL correspondents reported from Baku.
The 59-year-old Yaqublu is a deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party and a senior politician in the National Council of Democratic Forces.
He was convicted of “hooliganism” and sentenced to four years and three months in prison on September 3 over a dispute after a traffic accident that he and rights groups say was a setup for the “bogus” case.
Yaqublu’s lawyer, Aqil Layic, told RFE/RL on September 7 that the politician was being pressured to confess to nonexistent psychological problems to explain his hunger strike.
Yaqublu was arrested in March after the car crash.
Investigators accused Yaqublu of “using a wrench to conduct an act of hooliganism” against the other driver, a charge he has denied.
European officials have expressed concerns over Yaqublu’s conviction and called on Baku to revisit his case.
Yaqublu, who frequently criticizes the government and authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev, spent 14 months in prison in 2013-14 on charges widely dismissed as politically motivated.
He was also sentenced to several days in jail in October 2019 after an opposition rally, during which he claims he was tortured in custody.
Critics of Aliyev’s government say authorities in the oil-rich Caspian Sea state frequently seek to silence dissent by jailing opposition activists, journalists, and civil-society advocates on trumped-up charges.
Aliyev has ruled Azerbaijan since 2003, taking over for his father, Heydar Aliyev, who served as president for a decade.