In mid-November, an Azerbaijani court sentenced Rashad Ramazanov, an Islamist blogger, to nine years in prison on charges of drug possession. Two weeks earlier, Taleh Bagir-zade, a young and charismatic Shi’a cleric, received a two-year prison term after being convicted on similar charges.
The two cases highlight a disturbing fact about Azerbaijan: the government is manipulating the criminal justice system in order to silence all sorts of dissent.
It’s no coincidence that authorities arrested Ramazanov after he made anti-government statements on Facebook, characterizing President Ilham Aliyev’s administration as a "diabolical regime." Bagir-zade, meanwhile, was arrested after he gave a fiery sermon accusing the government of corruption, and denouncing President Aliyev as a zalim, or despot. When being interrogated by police, they both contend they were questioned about their statements, not drug possession.
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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.