CEU Alumnus Detained as Political Prisoner Released in Azerbaijan

According to an Azerbaijani news source, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pardoned 148 political prisoners including CEU alumnus Rashadat Akhundov on March 17.

Akhundov graduated from CEU Business School in 2007 and, after graduation, he returned to his home country Azerbaijan where he became a co-founder of the N!DA Civic Movement which aimed to bring about democratic change through peaceful and non-violent methods. He was arrested in 2013, charged illegally possessing firearms and explosives and ultimately sentenced to over eight years in prison. In 2014, Amnesty International recognized Akhundov and other N!DA members and activists as “prisoners of conscience.”

At the end of their trial the N!DA activists, led by Akhundov, made a speech that became known as “Live Not by Lies.” In the speech, the activists asserted that they were arrested for demanding freedom, the rule of law and human rights in their home country.

“If there is any sign of a tendency for violence, solely the government is responsible for it. As the government creates unlawful conditions, people become more aggressive and want revenge. Of course, it encourages a bias towards violence. Being a civic movement, we did our best to prevent physical confrontation and propagate nonviolent struggle. We used numerous examples from global experience that prove that nonviolent struggle is far better than violence. Ironically however, we were accused of violence,” they wrote.

In 2016, CEU's Human RightS Initiative (HRSI) organized the exhibition “Azerbaijan - Doubling Down on Repression,” presenting stories of 10 political prisoners in Azerbaijan and a panel discussion with civic activist Necmin Kamilsoy and human rights advocate Emin Huseynov.

According to the Azerbaijani news source, other N!DA members and activist from other organizations remain jailed.