The Muslim world continues to reverberate from the shock created by Saudi Arabia’s early January execution of Baqr al-Nimr, a dissident Shia cleric. Meanwhile, another outspoken Shia cleric, Taleh Bagir-zade, sits behind bars in Azerbaijan.
Bagir-zade was arrested ostensibly for his role in the recent deadly clashes between the police and activists of the Muslim Unity Movement of Azerbaijan – the closest thing the Caspian nation has to an organized “Islamist” opposition.
The Saudi execution of al-Nimr and its aftermath offer Azerbaijani leaders some sobering lessons as they deal with their own “Shia” challenge.
It is not the first time Bagir-zade finds himself in the crosshairs of Azerbaijani authorities – in fact, it was only last July that he was released from prison after serving two-and-a-half-year sentence on what were widely seen as trumped-up drug-related charges. His fiery denunciations of the Aliyev administration were a more likely reason for his imprisonment.
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Eldar Mamedov is a political adviser to the Socialists & Democrats Group in the European Parliament. He writes in his personal capacity.