Azerbaijan currently holds a dubious distinction of holding almost double the number of political prisoners than those held in Belarus and Russia combined. The Azerbaijani government’s use of criminal prosecution as a tool for political retaliation against its critics is a well-documented problem.
As the profiles of several political prisoners presented in this slideshow suggest, those now behind bars are influential figures of the country’s dismantled civil society. In addition to these imprisoned rights activists, political opposition figures, journalists, religious figures, and other perceived government critics, there are many others who have faced prosecution for the legitimate exercise of civil and political rights.
Evidence gathered by local and international rights groups has found that these individuals’ efforts to promote basic rights in Azerbaijan catalyzed government persecution. They now face a variety of cooked-up charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, extortion, and tax evasion.
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Vugar Gojayev is an Azerbaijani researcher and freelance journalist.