SHAKI, Azerbaijan; March 17, 2014 (RFE/RL) -- In Azerbaijan, sentences have been handed down to two leading opposition figures in a high-profile mass disorder case. A court in the northern city of Shaki on Monday sentenced Ilgar Mammadov, head of the Republican Alternative movement, to seven years in prison, and Tofiq Yaqublu, deputy head of the Musavat (Equality) party, to five years. Eight other defendants received jail terms of between 2.5 and eight years. Another eight defendants received suspended sentences and were released from custody. All 18 defendants were found guilty of charges linked to mass disturbances in January 2013 in the town of Ismayilli. In the rioting, protesters demand the resignation of the district governor and set fire to his residence, cars, and a local motel.
Both opposition leaders have been charged with organising and participating in ‘mass disorder’ and ‘violently resisting police’. According to the lawyers, no evidence has been presented to prove that the accused have committed a crime or incited others to do so.
The U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan sharply critisized the verdict. In its statement issued after the trial the U.S. Embassy in Baku said that the verdicts about the opposition leaders "were politically motivated."
The U.S. Embassy Statement on the Outcome of the Ismayilli Unrest Trial
The U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan is deeply disappointed by the March 17 decision to sentence opposition REAL Movement Head Ilgar Mammadov and opposition Musavat Party Deputy Chair Tofig Yagublu to lengthy prison terms on questionable charges of inciting the January 23-24, 2013, unrest in Ismayilli.
Before and during the legal process, we told Azerbaijani officials at all levels that we hoped for an open and fair trial of the defendants. While we welcomed the Azerbaijani Government’s decision to allow U.S. and other international observers to monitor the trial, we and other observers saw significant irregularities in witness testimony and court proceedings. Our observations lead to the conclusion that the verdicts were not based on the evidence and were politically motivated.