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On December 28, President Ilham Aliyev signed the traditional end of year decree pardoning 210 people. However, unlike in previous years, none of the political prisoners were released.
The failure to include any of the political prisoners on the list gave rise to public discontent, drawing objections not only from the families of prisoners and opposition representatives, but also from human rights defenders supporting the government.
According to some experts, the fact that the pardon decree did not extend to political prisoners is one consequence of the bill drafted by the US Helsinki Commission, which envisages visa sanctions against Azerbaijani officials.
NIDA Movement member Rashad Hasanov, who is recognized as a political prisoner by local and international organizations, issued a statement from prison. “The real cause of the fact that we remain in jail, not with our families and friends, is the attempt by some US and Western circles to interfere with international affairs by means of sanctions. The de-facto release of Arif Yunus on November 12 and of Leyla Yunus on December 9 were a clear indication of the Azerbaijani government’s will to take positive steps with regard to the fate of us, the political prisoners. As a continuation of this positive approach, all the legal and technical preparatory work had been done for the release of at least 6 people, including me, under yesterday’s pardon decree. This was the positive result of the talks held with us and with our family members. The last minute removal of our names from the pardon decree at was the fault of those who have failed to correctly analyze the political climate in Azerbaijan, and the irrational steps of some US circles who believe that they will be able to achieve positive results by interfering with internal affairs through negative means.”
Alyar Mammadov, the father of the imprisoned NIDA member Omar Mammadov, is unhappy that his son’s name was not on the list. “They had called me to the Penitentiary Service and talked to me to make sure that Omar will no longer be engaged in politics. I told them that he will continue his education. No one’s name was included on the list. I cannot understand it – why treat your own people in this way? What is the good of being so cruel? Let them tell us why they are doing this. This is not statehood, this is enmity,” said Alyar Mammadov.
Background: On December 16, the chairman of the US Helsinki Commission, Chris Smith introduced the Azerbaijan Democracy Act to Promote Rule of Law, Human Rights (Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015). HR 4264, a landmark bill that will deny US visas to senior members of the Azerbaijani government for human rights violations, has been presented to the US Congress. Shortly after this development, a member of Azerbaijan Parliament, Rovshan Rzayev drafted a counter-bill titled “On the human rights situation in the United States,” which envisages visa bans against US officials and the termination of all relations with US companies.