IMS fears for health of jailed Azerbaijani blogger on hunger strike

The condition of Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov, who has been on hunger strike in an Azerbaijani prison for twelve days, has worsened dramatically, local media reports. International Media Support (IMS) is gravely concerned for the health and well-being of Mehman Huseynov and reiterates its call for his immediate release and the release of all journalists, bloggers and activists unjustly imprisoned by the government for expressions of peaceful dissent.

Mehman Huseynov, a leading Azerbaijani blogger, known for his hard-hitting exposés of corrupt practices and violations of human rights, has been in prison on bogus defamation charges since March 2017, following abduction and torture in January 2017. In recent years Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly threatened Huseynov and ordered him to stop his activities and banned him from international travel.

On 26 December 2018, two months ahead of his scheduled release from prison, new charges were brought against him of ‘resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to his health and life,’ for which he may be sentenced to seven years in prison if convicted. Huseynov immediately started a hunger strike to protest the new charges and was put in solitary confinement for which no legitimate grounds were submitted.

‘The utterly ridiculous charges brought against Mehman as the end of his current term approaches are clearly a strategy to silence his critical voice and intimidate those who dare to speak up against corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan,’ says Gulnara Akhundova, Head of Global Response Department in IMS.

‘The 29-year-old is risking his life to protest against this despicable attack on his right to freedom of expression. Azerbaijani authorities must stop toying with his life and release him immediately’, she says.

Huseynov’s barristers were denied access to their client until 28 December 2018. When they finally visited Huseynov, his condition was so critical that he could hardly move. According to his barrister Shahla Gumbatova, Huseynov is determined to continue his hunger strike. ‘Sacrificing our freedom is not enough, we need to sacrifice our lives. I am ready for that. I think my death may shape our society and trigger some strong, immediate reaction from the international community’, Huseynov said.

On 30 December 2018, Huseynov’s condition deteriorated sharply and he fainted. Huseynov is consuming liquids now, but his condition remains critical.

IMS strongly believes that Mehman Huseynov was imprisoned for his journalism and critical views and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to release him immediately. IMS further calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to respect Mehman Huseynov’s human rights, including the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment as it pertains to hunger strike and his right to medical attention.