Three months after an Azerbaijani student went missing in Iran, news has emerged that he is facing trial for espionage. No details are known about the allegations.
Farid Safarli, a student at the University of Jena in Germany, went missing in early March after he traveled to Tehran reportedly to meet his Iranian girlfriend. Until now, there had been no news of Safarli's whereabouts, despite Azerbaijan sending an inquiry to Iran and Safarli's mother traveling to Iran to search for him.
Only on June 2, Dilara Askarova, his mother, announced on Facebook that she was contacted by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry with the news that Safarli is detained in Iran on espionage charges. In her post, Askarova said her son was not a spy and asked Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for help.
"Farid knows very well how severely those charged with espionage are punished in Iran, and I'm dying inside knowing what could be going through his mind now," she lamented. "Mr. President, Farid is being tried in Iran without defense. I'm asking you to help provide a lawyer for him and for me to meet him."
On June 5, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov confirmed the news to journalists. "Immediately after learning about the missing Azerbaijani student in Iran, the ministry in Baku issued a note to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and at the same time, our Consulate General started to act. It took a long time to get information about the fate of that person," he said.
"Weeks later we received official information from the Iranian side that the person was detained and charged and that a criminal case was launched against him. There is contact between the student and the staff of our Consulate General in Iran. At the same time, work is being done to arrange a physical meeting."
Earlier, on June 3, the ministry issued a warning for citizens to refrain from visits to Iran. "[C]itizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan are strongly advised not to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran unless it is necessary, and those who visit are strongly advised to exercise increased caution," the statement read.
It was nearly identical to a statement released shortly before Safarli's disappearance and in the wake of what Baku called a terrorist attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran in January that left one embassy staffer dead.
After that incident, Azerbaijan closed its embassy and reduced its diplomatic presence in Iran to the Consulate General in the city of Tabriz, in East Azerbaijan Province.
President Aliyev alleged that "some branches of the Iranian establishment" were behind the attack.
Azerbaijan also suggested Iran was responsible for the shooting of a member of the Azerbaijani parliament in late March.
While Iran-Azerbaijan relations have been particularly tense since early this year, they have been on an overall downward trajectory since the 2020 Second Karabakh War, with Azerbaijan accusing Iran of being pro-Armenian and selling oil and other supplies to the separatist authorities in Karabakh.
The country's political opposition and civil society have generally backed the government in its feud with Iran, but are also urging it to act to help Safarli.
"The government must take immediate legal and diplomatic action. If the court convicts him of espionage, he could be hanged," journalist Habib Muntazir wrote. "Poor Azerbaijanis are slandered as spies both in their own country and in others."
Heydar Isayev is a journalist from Baku.