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Human rights activists crash UN climate conference to demand action for political prisoner

The family of a professor being held prisoner in Azerbaijan has called on the UN to lobby for his freedom at a climate conference that marks the symbolic halfway point to COP29.

Zhala Bayramova, 25, traveled to the UN climate conference in Bonn on Monday to raise awareness for her father’s case and to put the spotlight on the inhumane treatment of political prisoners. 

Dr Gubad Ibadoghlu, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics (LSE) and renowned Azerbaijani anti-corruption activist, has been imprisoned since July 23, 2023 on allegedly politically motivated charges.

He remains detained under house arrest in the capital, Baku.

From the sidelines of the Bonn meeting, Zhala said: “It is perverse to see Azerbaijan lauded as climate leaders at the Bonn talks, while my father and many other political prisoners remain detained by the Aliyev dictatorship. 

“My father is being punished for his activism and investigations on oil and gas revenues, environmental effects and corruption. 

“He needs urgent surgery for his heart and is deprived of medical help even in house arrest. 

“The UN must act and put pressure on the Azeri regime to release my father and preserve the legitimacy of the international climate process.” 

The decision to hold this year’s COP29 climate conference in Baku has drawn criticism from activists due to its oil production and human rights record. 

Zhala added that having COP29 in the capital of Azerbaijan gives legitimacy to the government which has overseen a brutal crackdown on descent. 

In recent years, the European Court of Human Rights has found a “troubling pattern” of arrests and detention of government critics in Azerbaijan.

Independent organisations estimate there are nearly 300 political prisoners held in the former-Soviet state, including journalists, activists and opposition politicians.

During the talks, anti-corruption group Global Witness projected an image of Dr Ibadoghlu in front of delegates and onto prominent buildings at the Bonn conference, calling on the Azeri regime to release him.

Global Witness has also launched a formal complaint against Mukhtar Babayev, President Designate of COP29 and Azerbaijan’s environment minister. 

The complaint states that Mr Babayev is in breach of the UN’s climate treaty because of his role as an official of the regime that continues to detain Dr Ibadoghlu.

Dr Ibadoghlu’s arrest came after he published an article that criticized the country’s oil and gas policies, and created a charity to return public resources stolen by Azeri oligarchs to the people of Azerbaijan.

He faces up to 17 years in prison.

Dr Ibadoghlu was denied vital medical treatment during his detention and his health, already fragile due to diabetes and high blood pressure, has deteriorated.

He was released to house arrest in April, where the Azeri authorities continued to restrict his access to medical care, according to family members.

He faces indefinite detention while his trial is repeatedly postponed. 

His son, Ibad Bayramov, 23, told the Daily Express: “They have delayed his trial again until August. I was not surprised but I was very sad.

“The conditions he is being held in are just unacceptable.” 

Dr Ibadoghlu’s family, along with a broad coalition of civil society groups, are calling for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of other political prisoners in Azerbaijan.


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