Washington, D.C.: Freedom Now welcomes the release of 51 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan. Among the group are members of the NIDA youth movement Ilkin Rustamzadeh, Elgiz Gahraman, Giyas Ibrahimov, and Bayram Mammadov,  journalist Fikret Faramazoglu, blogger Rashad Ramazanov, and deputy chairpersons of the opposition Popular Front Party Gozel Bayramli and Fuad Qahramanli. The releases come as a result of President Ilham Aliyev issuing pardons to nearly 400 individuals on March 16, ahead of the traditional Nowruz celebrations.

“We welcome the long overdue release of these 51 individuals; a relief for their families and friends,” said Freedom Now’s Executive Director Maran Turner. “However, we must express tremendous disappointment that President Aliyev did not extend pardons to the scores of other prisoners of conscience in the country, including journalists Afgan Mukhtarli and Seymur Hezi and Muslim Unity Movement members Taleh Bagirov and Abbas Huseynov. We strongly urge the international community to hold President Aliyev’s regime accountable for its continued abuse of human rights and the rule of law. In particular, we recommend European Union officials raise the continued detention of prisoners of conscience during the EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council meeting on April 4.”

Prior to the mass pardon, local activists documented nearly 130 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, including human rights defenders, political opposition leaders, civil society leaders, religious activists, and journalists. Since 2011, Freedom Now has campaigned for the release of 21 prisoners of conscience in the country, including journalist Khadija Ismayilova, human rights activist Rasul Jafarov, lawyer Intigam Aliyev, and civil society leaders Leyla and Arif Yunus – all of whom have been released. In addition to advocacy, Freedom Now has produced in-depth reports on the domestic laws used by Azerbaijan to undertake its crackdown on civil society and transnational repression in neighboring Georgia.