Senator Durbin Urges Azerbaijan To Free Bakhtiyar Hajiyev

A key U.S. senator on Monday, once again, urged Azerbaijan to free leading activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, TURAN's Washington correspondent reports. Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said that he was "troubled" by the cases of civic and human rights voices Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Elchin Sadigov - with Hajiyev recently 'near death in jail', as he put it. Durbin called on the Azerbaijani government to release political prisoners and "instead focus on joining the community of democracies." Hajiyev was arrested on Dec 9 for alleged 'hooliganism' and 'disrespect for court', claims that he strongly denies. Senator Durbin's comments came just hours after President Ilham Aliyev issued pardons for hundreds of people, including several who have been identified by rights groups as being behind bars for political reasons. Washington welcomed the move, adding that "unfortunately, many still remain in prison for exercising those same rights, and we call on Azerbaijan to release those individuals," as the U.S. Embassy to Baku put it. When asked by TURAN's correspondent if Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a chance last week to discuss the topic of human rights with his Azerbaijani counterpart in Washington, State Department's deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said the following: "I'm not going to get into the specifics of last week's talks beyond what we've shared publicly. But of course, we raise human rights regularly and consistently with our counterparts when we engage with them." * Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was arrested on December 9 last year on charges of hooliganism and contempt of court. On the same day, the Khatai District Court arrested him for 1 month and 20 days. On December 15, Hajiyev went on a hunger strike demanding his release. He ended his hunger strike on December 28 after persistent calls from members of the public and family members. But on January 9, after the Court of Appeal denied his release from custody, he resumed his hunger strike, which continues to this day. On January 21, the court extended Hajiyev's term of imprisonment for another month, and on February 23, the Khatai court extended the term of arrest for another 2 months - on April 28. The courts did not satisfy the numerous petitions of lawyers to change Hajiyev's extreme measure of restraint to house arrest or release on bail pending the start of the trial. On February 28, on the 51st day of the hunger strike, Hajiyev ended the hunger strike. Representatives of the State Department, the US Senate, the European Union, the Council of Europe and a number of international NGOs have repeatedly called for the release of Hajiyev from custody.

Source: Turan News Agency