Prisoner of Conscience: Gozel Bayramli
In May 2017, Gozel Bayramli, an Azerbaijani politician and deputy chair of the opposition Popular Front Party, APFP, was returning to her home country from a medical treatment in neighboring Georgia. At the border an officer asked her to step aside for further questioning because there was something wrong with her passport. The border official insisted to inspect her luggage and found $12,000 in one of her bags, which is $2,000 more than the allowed amount of undeclared cash a person can carry. Then Bayramli was charged with smuggling for failing to declare the money. She has maintained her innocence, claiming that the border police planted the money in her bag. She also said that the charges against her had been fabricated.
In January 2018 she was sentenced to three years in prison. Her lawyer, Elcin Sadiqo, called the ruling “illegal” and said he would appeal it, Radio Free Europe’s Azerbaijani service reported. Bayramli described the verdict as “a black stain on a judicial system that executes a political order from the authoritarian regime” Sadiqov was quoted saying.
Dozens of APFP members have also been arrested and some imprisoned in the last several years on what some have called trumped-up charges, according to Radio Free Europe.
In recent years Azerbaijan has been widely criticized for trying to repress investigative journalists, opposition leaders, critics of President Ilham Aliyev and his government by jailing them on what international human rights watchdogs see as trumped-up accusations. Aliyev has been in power since 2003, when he took over shortly before his father Heydar Aliyev passed away who had ruled the former Soviet republic for decades.
“I believe that people of Azerbaijan who managed to prevail during the 70-year-long [Soviet] empire are capable of prevailing over the corrupt regime of [President Ilham] Aliyev. Aliyev’s rule is today the major barbaric impediment for freedom....” Bayramli was quoted as saying by Radio Free Europe’s Azerbaijani service.
In March, 2019 Bayramli, who had spent two years in prison, was freed along with other 400 prisoners by a presidential pardon ahead of Nowruz, Azerbaijan’s New Year. While pardoning of inmates is common around that time of the year, her release is seen by some as unusual.