March 17, following the release of some of the high profile political prisoners in Azerbaijan AzadliqRadiosu spoke to their family members as well as some of the international organizations, which followed the cases of political prisoners closely.
Commenting on the release of her jailed husband and N!DA activist Rashadat Akhundov Turkan Huseynova, said, "These past three years were very difficult. I was not expecting his release. I guess when you do not expect the release and then hear the news, the joy is stronger".
"Surely the release of our friends and many of the political prisoners made us very happy, especially the release of Rasul Jafarov, one of the founders of the movement. However, the fact that our founder and head of the movement Ilgar Mammadov remains behind bars is saddening. This only proves yet again, that the regime is avoiding the sole opponent Ilgar Mammadov despite the official decision from the European Court of Human Rights", said executive secretary of ReAL movement Natig Jafarli.
Necmin Kamilsoy, the son of jailed human rights defender Intigam Aliyev in an interview with AzadliqRadiosu said the family had no expectations that their father's name will be on the list. "That is why the news did not sadden us. But we are very happy for the release of other political prisoners and hope that our father is released in one of the next pardons".
Speaking to AzadliqRadiosu about the recent pardon was also Elmira Ismayilova, mother of jailed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. "I was not expecting that Khadija would be released. But I am very happy for Tofig Yagublu, Anar Mammadli and other political prisoners."
"I was not expecting release of my father. In general, for a while I gave up on the pardon completely, especially since there was the appeal court in the case of my father and Ilgar Mammadov. I still cannot understand why they did not release Ilgar Mammadov. Of course I was overjoyed when I heard my dad's name. I think if the pressure against the regime continues next on pardon list will be those who were not released this time", said Tofig Yaggublu's daughter Nigar Yagublu speaking to AzadliqRadiosu shortly after the release.
“No one should be under any illusion”
In a written letter, Jodie Ginsberg of Index On Censorship said, "We are pleased at the pardoning of a number of political prisoners whose release we have long sought. However, no one should be under any illusion that President Aliyev is in some way relaxing his authoritarian regime. Azerbaijan continues to ratchet up pressure on independent journalists, on civil society activists and others, and this means we cannot let up in our own attempts to highlight to the country's human rights abuses to the world."
Johann Bihr, head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders too welcomed the release of some of the political prisoners but reminded that some 80 other individuals remain locked up. Speaking to AzadliqRadiosu Bihr said, "it is a great happiness to know that Hilal Mammadov, Tofig Yagublu, Parviz Hashimli will walk free very soon. They spent years in jail on absurd charges. They lost several years of their life for nothing. They should never have spent a single day in jail [...] However of course we don’t forget that at least four journalists and three bloggers remain in jail for their information activity including Khadija Ismayilova. While maybe 15 or 20 political prisoners were released today about 80 others remain in jail."
Bihr also added that this is only the first step and that pressure should continue. "This [the release] should be an encouragement for the US, the EU, and the rest of the world to keep a strong pressure and actually to increase the pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities to release all other political prisoners and to put an end to the very harsh repressions we have seen over the past two years".
“Release is a step in right direction, but not enough”
Rebecca Vincent coordinator of the Sport For Rights campaign- founded by Rasul Jafarov- says release of some of the prisoners is a the step in right direction however not enough. “It is a step in the right direction, and we hope that more releases and further reforms will follow. All political prisoners in Azerbaijan must be freed, and other concrete steps must be taken - such as dropping the criminal investigations into a number of NGOs, repealing regressive legislation, and allowing RFE/RL to re-open its Baku bureau”, said Vincent in an email exchange with AzadliqRadiosu.
“I believe these releases also show that calls for individual sanctions from American and European politicians are working. In that regard, we would encourage the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress to keep working towards holding individual Azerbaijani government officials accountable, until all of the political prisoners have been released.”
Vincent also suggested that the release was “perhaps intended as a gesture to earn an invitation to the White House [ahead of President Aliyev’s visit to Washington DC, for the nuclear summit]”. In the meantime, Vincent says the Sport for Rights coalition will continue with its efforts calling for the release of others in Azerbaijani including “journalists Khadija Ismayilova and Seymur Hezi, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, youth activist Ilkin Rustemzade, opposition REAL movement leader Ilgar Mammadov, and the dozens of others who remain behind bars for political reasons. We will particularly be raising these cases in the context of the upcoming Formula One European Grand Prix, which will take place in Baku in June.”
Similarly, the Human Rights House Foundation says it will continue campaigning for the release of Khadija Ismayilova and Intigam Aliyev as well as the remaining political prisoners on an international level including Council of Europe, EU, UN and in meetings with embassies. And hopes these efforts will continue in tandem with the pressure from the international community. "The international community has to be very principled and continue to put pressure in order to make sure that the Azerbaijani authorities change the legislation in line with international human rights commitments. The international community [should] ensure that they [the Azerbaijan authorities] restore the rights to association, expression and freedom of assembly. It is not just the question about the release of political prisoners that needs to be solved, but also the question about the importance of changing the situation to give space to civil society inside Azerbaijan so it can operate.", said Ane Tusvik Bonde who is the tegional manager at Human Rights House Foundation speaking to AzadliqRadiosu.