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Human rights activists, U. community members call for release of jailed scholar in Azerbaijan

Human rights advocates and colleagues of former visiting scholar at Rutgers, Gubad Ibadoghlu, are calling for his release from prison. – Photo by

On July 23, Gubad Ibadoghlu, a former Rutgers postdoctoral professor, was detained in his home country of Azerbaijan, according to an article from Reuters. 

Rachel Denber, the Human Rights Watch's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said Ibadoghlu is a well-known political economist and academic scholar who has been actively promoting budget transparency and anti-corruption standards for international financial institutions lending to Azerbaijan.

Denber said Azerbaijan’s government can be hostile and unwelcoming toward criticism and challenges to government policies. She said Ibadoghlu’s advocacy could lead to possible displeasure from high-level officials.

Belinda Davis, a professor in the Department of History, shared a similar sentiment to Denber. She said she was aware of the Azerbaijani government's scrutiny and described Ibadoghlu as an endangered scholar since arriving at Rutgers due to his prolonged vulnerability.

The government of Azerbaijan alleges that Ibadoughlu used counterfeit currency after discovering $40,000 at an apartment registered in his name, though it is unsure whether the money was truly there.

Since then, an Azerbaijani court formally sentenced him to four months of pretrial detention on charges of making, obtaining or selling counterfeit money by an organized group, according to an article from the Human Rights Watch.

Denber said she has been following human rights situations in Azerbaijan for several decades and is used to seeing fake allegations. But the charges made against Ibadoghlu, along with his arrest, stood out as unprecedented.

"I don't think I have ever seen anything like that," she said. "The combination of the types of charges, counterfeiting, is ludicrous, and the men on the arrest really made you think that they're trying to send a very particular type of message to Ibadoghlu. A message of revenge."

Kate Watters, co-founder and executive director of the organization Crude Accountability, said Azerbaijan has a long history of violating human rights. While Ibadoghlu's case is notable, she said this is not the first time in Azerbaijan that individuals, such as political oppositionists, journalists, bloggers and independent thinkers, have faced legal repercussions for their work.

In Ibadoghlu's case, though, his arrest was preceded by him and his wife being assaulted by political officials before being detained in a small cell without proper food, water or his necessary medications, she said.

"This is a gross miscarriage of justice," Watters said. "We would urge the government of Azerbaijan to release (Ibadoghlu) immediately and unconditionally, and we encourage the international community to raise its collective voices in defense of his rights."

Both Watters and Davis expressed concern and uncertainty about Ibadoghlu’s fate.

"The conditions are extremely serious, and as each day passes, we're increasingly worried about what will happen if there is no way to get him released from the prison," Davis said. "There is literally a question of whether he would survive another week in prison."

Davis also spoke about Ibadoghlu’s contributions and work on campus, saying he was a remarkable scholar interested in the democratization of Azerbaijan. At Rutgers, he organized a workshop that brought academics, policymakers and human rights activists to effectively address and advance crucial issues.

Other members of the Rutgers community, including various departments in the School of Arts and Sciences, the University's administration and Ibadoghlu’s son, also weighed in on his detention. The Department of Political Science has shared a petition with its students, which asks the U.S. Senate and President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to advocate for his release. 

Patti Zielinski, a University spokesperson, confirmed that Ibadoghlu was a visiting scholar at Rutgers until June 2021. The University declined to further comment on the ongoing situation in the country.

Emin Bayramli, a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences and Ibadoghlu’s son, said his father's trip to Azerbaijan in July was to visit his ailing mother. Prior to traveling, Ibadoghlu was living in exile.

Bayramli said he has never heard of an incident like this in Azerbaijan but described his father’s arrest as an issue of civil rights and freedom of speech and as a big blow to the academics of Azerbaijan. He also called on the Rutgers community to request action from political leadership.

"I really want the Rutgers (community), where we have (approximately) 55,000 students and 20,000 staff, to reach out to their congressmen and their senators," Bayramli said. "Call their Washington, D.C. offices, call their district offices, and let them know that a Rutgers professor, Gubad Ibadoghlu, has been arrested ... That is the most important thing I could ask from the Rutgers community, aside from Rutgers to release a statement."

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