Update 01/23/19: JAMNews has reported that in response to the protests, Imprisoned blogger Mehman Huseynov will be released from prison at the end of his two year term, per President Ilham Aliyev’s request.
BAKU (JAMNews)—The National Council of Democratic Forces held an opposition rally in Baku on Saturday. Demonstrators demanded the release of popular blogger Mehman Huseynov, whose videos are critical of authorities and corrupt officials. Huysenov has been on a hunger strike in prison to protest additional charges levied against him on the eve of the expiration date of his prison term. He has been recognized as a “prisoner of conscience” by human rights organization Amnesty International.
The rally was a link in a chain of opposition and civic protests that began in late December, since the beginning of Huseynov’s strike (though the prison administration has claimed from almost the beginning that the hunger strike is fabricated). According to official data, 2,800 people gathered at the rally. The opposition says it was more like 20,000. JAMnews correspondents placed the number of attendees at around 7,000. Police closed the entrance to the stadium 15 minutes after the start of the rally, and mobile internet was turned off in the area around the stadium so that no one could broadcast live on social media.
Representatives of the Musavat, the Republican Alternative and the Popular Front of Azerbaijan opposition parties, as well as political activists, spoke from the podium. In their speeches, they criticized the authorities of the country, talked about corruption, the bad economic situation and the violation of human rights in Azerbaijan. Moreover, they criticized the authorities for their “overly lenient” and “peace-loving” position on Nagorno Karabakh.
The chairman of the Popular Front Party called on all those who gathered to come to the next rally the following week on 26 January. Huseynov’s term was due to expire in March of this year, but in the end of December he was charged on new allegations of beating a prison guard and may face up to seven years in prison.