“Dozens of civil society activists, NGO leaders, journalists, and human rights defenders have been incarcerated in Azerbaijan in recent years. Two of them,” explained Saman Sardar (MPA ’16), “are CEU alumni.” Ilgar Mammadov graduated with a degree in political economy from CEU in 1997. He was an active member of the opposition in Azerbaijan and one of the leaders of the Republicanist Alternative Movement until he was sentenced to seven years in jail in March 2014. Rashadat Akhundov, who graduated with a master’s degree in business administration from the CEU Business School in 2007, is a youth activist, and founder of the N!DA Civic Movement. Akhundov celebrated his 31st birthday in prison on April 7, 2015 – just one month before he was sentenced to eight years in jail.
“As part of our Passion Project, Saman and I are working with the European Stability Initiative (ESI) to raise awareness and to help mobilize journalists, decision makers, and the wider public to put the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan higher on the agenda of European politicians,” explained Nataliya Novakova (MPA ’16). In addition to supporting ESI’s efforts, Sardar and Novakova are also trying to galvanize the CEU community by engaging them in the advocacy campaign for Mammadov and Akhundov.
“At CEU we talk a lot about the values of open society. We think it is important to remind everyone about the price that some members of the CEU family are paying to stand up for these values,” said Sardar. She and Novakova say that they have received a lot of support for their efforts so far, which included the publication of an article in The CEU Weekly (an independent newspaper run by CEU students) in April. “Our article reached 26,480 people in one day, and the website got hit 5,580 times – the greatest number of hits on the Weekly's website for at least a year,” said Novakova.
CEU alumni, including some of Akhundov’s classmates, have been especially appreciative of Sardar and Novakova’s efforts. The Slovakian Alumni Chapter has contacted the Slovakian members of the European Parliament on behalf of political prisoners in Azerbaijan; the UK Alumni Chapter intends to do the same. “This response demonstrates that many students and alumni feel like we do about the importance of speaking up for the values of Open Society,” said Sardar.
The two SPP students are collecting letters of support to send to Akhundov's and Mammadov’s families who have said they will deliver the letters to the men in prison. “Every word of support counts in these trying times. With many others, we are hoping that one day we will see steps towards a better democracy in Azerbaijan, one that can contribute to stability and prosperity in the region,” said Novakova.
If you would like to write to Mammadov or Akhundov, learn more about their situation, or support the ongoing efforts to secure their release, email Nataliya Novakova (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Saman Sardar (email@example.com). They’d love to hear from you.