The Struggle for Freedom UPDATE: Gubad Ibadoghlu awaiting May 20 trial from house arrest in Baku

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Jessica Ludwig
Director, Global Policy
George W. Bush Institute

The Azerbaijani economist Dr. Gubad Ibadoghlu was released from prison to house arrest by a district court on April 21.  

Although his family, friends, and colleagues are relieved that Ibadoghlu is able to seek urgently needed medical care for several chronic health conditions for which he was denied treatment while in prison, they remain highly concerned about what will happen during his upcoming trial set for May 20, 2024.  

Ibadoghlu should be unconditionally released rather than subjected to strict limitations on his movement that prevent him from leaving the capital city of Baku. 

An internationally respected scholar and political activist who has focused on corruption in Azerbaijan, Ibadoghlu had already spent more than 9 months in pretrial detention on purported charges of engaging in organized production and sale of counterfeit money and the storage and distribution of religious extremist materials. As previously explained in The Struggle for Freedom series, the allegations against Ibadoghlu were levied after he asked the U.K. government to direct assets seized from corrupt Azerbaijani elites towards a scholarship program for Azerbaijani university students studying in the U.K. 

Suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and chronic back pain, Ibadoghlu’s health rapidly deteriorated into critical condition during his imprisonment. He was repeatedly denied access to visits by an independent doctor, and his prescribed medications were either withheld or inappropriately administered, severely affecting his eyesight and ability to walk. An independent medical evaluation conducted by a local hospital upon his release to house arrest revealed test results that were much more dire than previously reported by the custody center where Ibadoghlu was imprisoned. 

A broader crackdown on independent journalists and other civil society leaders inspires little confidence that Azerbaijan’s justice system will provide Ibadoghlu a fair and impartial trial. Reports began circulating on April 29 that Anar Mammadli of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS) had been detained and was being denied access to his lawyers after his house was searched.  On April 18, Azerbaijani journalist Imran Aliyev of the parliament-focused media outlet was also detained and tortured while trying to leave the country, fearing for his own safety. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the arrest of 13 journalists from four independent media outlets in Azerbaijan since November 2023, 11 of whom remain in prison. 

Bipartisan resolutions condemning the treatment of Ibadoghlu have been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. A proposed “Azerbaijan Sanctions Review Act of 2024” was introduced in Congress on April 26 calling for more than 40 Azerbaijani officials to be considered for targeted sanctions designations under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act or the State Department Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriation Act section 7031(c). 

The next month will be a critical time for Ibadoghlu. Not only has his family been concerned about addressing what are likely long-term damages to his health because of the conditions of his unjust imprisonment, but his son Emin Bayramli told me in a conversation that “we are extremely worried that he might be charged and sentenced in May.” It is important that the international community remind the Azerbaijan government that it is watching and will hold its leaders accountable for continued mistreatment of Ibadoghlu, Mammadli, Aliyev, and other arbitrarily detained civil society voices who should be unconditionally released.