Accusations and political arrest: the case of Gubad Ibadoglu

What are the Azerbaijani authorities accusing the renowned economist Gubad Ibadoglu of, and how has his arrest been received both within the country and abroad?

On August 25th, it was revealed that Gubad Ibadoglu, an Azerbaijani economist and the creator and chairman of the opposition party “Democracy and Prosperity Party,” who has been in prison for over a month, has faced a new accusation – religious extremism. This marks the third accusation against him in the last month.

Ibadoglu was arrested on July 23rd along with his wife Irada Bayramova as they were returning to their dacha in the Saray village of Baku. They were separately taken to the Department for Combating Organized Crime (UBOP).

At that time, information spread through Azerbaijani pro-government media and Turkish outlets that Ibadoglu was accused of having links with FETO, an organization recognized by Turkish authorities as a terrorist.

On the same evening, a search was conducted in the economist’s former apartment, which he now uses as an office, and it was announced that 20,000 counterfeit dollars had been found. During the night of July 23rd, the economist was arrested. The following day, it became known that he was charged under Article 204.3.1 (production, acquisition, or sale of counterfeit money or securities committed by an organized group) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. This charge carries a penalty of 8 to 12 years of imprisonment.

Губад Ибадоглу
Gubad Ibadoglu. Illustration: Meydan TV

Gubad Ibadoglu was born in 1951 in the village of Ashaghy Guzdek in the Fizuli district. For around 20 years, he worked at the Department of Economic Analysis at Azerbaijan State Economic University. Since 2004, he has been engaged in teaching and research activities at various universities in Europe and the United States. His most recent place of work is the London School of Economics and Political Science.

He began his political activities in the “Musavat” party, leaving it in 2015 to become one of the founders of the Movement for Democracy and Prosperity of Azerbaijan. In the same year, he was elected as the chairman of this movement. In 2021, the movement officially transformed into a political party.

For many years, the economist closely collaborated with the country’s civil society and various NGOs. From 1995 to 1999, he served as the chief editor of the “Ekonomiks” newspaper, in 2000 as the chief editor of the scientific-economic journal “Ekspert,” and in 2002, he led the board of directors of the Center for Economic Research. Since 2007, he has been the coordinator of the Coalition of Public Associations for Transparency in the Mining Industry. In 2008, he was a member of the strategic advisory group of the international coalition “Publish What You Pay,” headquartered in London. In 2009, he became a member of the board of the Black Sea Non-Governmental Forum. From 2013 to 2019, he was a member of the International Transparency Initiative in industries engaged in mineral resource extraction.

Operation on the Cottage Road

Gubad Ibadoglu’s spouse, who was detained and taken to UBOP (Department for Combating Organized Crime) along with him, shares that she still hasn’t recovered from the shock of what she experienced.

“We were driving on the road when we noticed that a car was following us. Then it tried to overtake us. It’s a narrow road with a divider. The rear car started squeezing us, and on the other side was a canal. When we pulled over to the shoulder, that car stopped right in front of us. Due to the sudden braking, I was thrown forward, and if it weren’t for the seatbelt, I might have been thrown out. As soon as we stopped, a few more cars stopped behind us.”

Seeing numerous identically dressed individuals around them, Irada Bayramova didn’t understand what was happening. She explains that before she could comprehend the situation, the door of their car opened, and someone, without introducing themselves, unfastened her seatbelt and pulled her out of the car:

“These people looked more like thugs than law enforcement officers. When they pulled me out, I noticed that there were 5-6 more people around in identical black short-sleeved shirts and black pants. When they were trying to put me into another car and attempted to close the door, I threw myself to the ground. I grabbed onto the car door and started calling for help, shouting that my husband and I are elderly and sick people, and our organs won’t be of any use to anyone. Because at that moment, I thought these people were either thugs or organ traffickers. Nothing else crossed my mind.”

Seeing Irada Bayramova’s resistance, several operatives forcefully placed her in the car. Later, she discovered marks they had left on her body.

Irada Bayramova was brought to the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime. She was interrogated for seven hours.

“I was in shock. To all the questions they asked me, I said I didn’t know anything. I don’t even remember what they were interrogating me about,” she says and adds, “After seven hours, they released me and said your husband will come later. But my husband never came.”

“My son doesn’t even know what dollars look like”

On July 24th, in addition to Gubad Ibadoglu, three more individuals were detained on suspicion of links to FETO (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization). Pretrial detention for a period of 4 months was ordered for each of them. Allegedly, these individuals, detained on suspicion of FETO connections, mentioned in their statements that they had collaborated with Ibadoglu.

According to the accusation against the economist, he allegedly handed counterfeit dollars to Anar Aliyev for safekeeping. However, as stated by Anar Aliyev’s mother, Chimnaz Imanova, in an interview with Meydan TV, they are not familiar with Gubad Ibadoglu and do not know what dollars look like.

“If Anar had dollars, he would have used them to pay off the loans for his sick mother,” said Chimnaz Imanova, who lives in a modest house in one of the impoverished neighborhoods of the Binagadi settlement in Baku.

Previously, she worked as an elementary school teacher in a middle school in Baku and is now retired. Anar himself works as a driver. Regarding his arrest, his mother recounts that on the evening of June 20th, Anar left home and was absent all night.

On July 21st, not knowing where her son was, his mother called all police stations and, together with his father, set out to search for him.

“I still don’t know why they took my child. The police themselves came to invite me to a meeting with my son, saying that Anar wanted to see me. I have diabetes and a weak heart. I told him: my son, what have you dragged us into? And our meeting took place in the presence of three investigators, so we couldn’t really talk properly. I felt unwell there, I took my medicine, sat for a while, and returned home.”

“The Azerbaijani government fears everything it doesn’t control.” 

“Gubad is not an ordinary person. He has been engaged in socio-political activities for many years. The author of numerous research papers and recently the creator and leader of the Party for Democracy and Prosperity of Azerbaijan, who has expressed his political ambitions. The arrest of such an individual on fabricated charges inevitably raises thoughts about political motives,” says human rights activist Anar Mammadli in an interview with Meydan TV.

Anar Mammadli. Illustration: Meydan TV

“On the other hand, the arrest of Gubad should be viewed in the context of years of political repression in Azerbaijan. Gubad is not the first nor the last person to be arrested on political grounds. The country has created such a political atmosphere that any dissent, even thoughts voiced on Facebook or social media, lead to detentions, intimidation, and pressure from the police,” continues the human rights activist.

According to him, “the arrest and charges against a person like Gubad, who has rallied many people around him, published research, and expressed his opinion on specific issues, provide grounds to believe that these accusations are false and politically motivated.”

Among the speculated reasons for Gubad Ibadoglu’s arrest, one of the most likely, according to many in Azerbaijan, is the “Azerbaijani Youth Education Foundation,” of which he is a co-founder. This foundation is set to be registered in the United Kingdom in the near future.

The foundation was established on July 14th of this year by Gubad Ibadoglu, along with the head of the National Council of Democratic Forces, Professor Jamil Hasanli, and former diplomat Arif Mamedov, who is in political exile in Europe. As stated by Jamil Hasanli, one of the foundation’s founders, to Meydan TV, the foundation’s goal is to support Azerbaijani youth in their education abroad.

More precisely, the reason for the arrest is seen not in the foundation itself, but in the idea voiced by Gubad Ibadoglu that the funds confiscated from Azerbaijani officials abroad could be redirected into the foundation.

However, Jamil Hasanli states that redirecting sanctioned funds is just a minor detail:

“All charitable foundations operate based on donations. When presenting our foundation, Gubad highlighted in detail that since the source of this money is Azerbaijan, a portion of it could be directed into the foundation after confiscation. Because the main purpose of the foundation is to provide Azerbaijani youth with education. However, the foundation’s activities are not solely based on this. This is just a detail.”

Moreover, Jamil Hasanli believes this idea is ultimately unfeasible. He explains that confiscated or discovered funds of questionable origin abroad can only be reclaimed by the government of the country from which they were transferred:

Jamil Hasanli

“In other words, the demands of individual persons, non-governmental organizations, or civil society institutions don’t work. If 5, 10, 1000 citizens of the country demand something, it won’t work. We have the example of Uzbekistan before our eyes. How did this happen in Uzbekistan? The government changed, and the new authority, by demanding it at the state level, managed to retrieve funds from Switzerland that belonged to the former ruling clan.”

“Generally, the Azerbaijani government is afraid of everything it doesn’t control,” says the historian. According to his perspective, Azerbaijani authorities believe that the creators of the foundation couldn’t have registered it independently, and there are unknown forces behind it that, under the guise of education, could interfere in the country’s internal affairs. However, any citizen can register a charitable foundation if they wish.

“The government divides people into two groups: those who pose a threat to it, and those who do not.”

However, human rights advocate Anar Mammadli believes that one should not link Gubad Ibadoglu’s arrest to the Education Foundation. In his view, by putting forward this version, we are diminishing the essence and scale of political repression in Azerbaijan:

“In Azerbaijan, to become a victim of political repression, a person doesn’t need to create any foundation or organization. The Azerbaijani government divides people into two groups: those who pose a threat to it, and those who do not. And Gubad was arrested because as of today, he has found himself on the list of individuals supposedly dangerous to the government. This is not related to the foundation he created but to his years of activity.

If we look at Gubad’s activity before the creation of this foundation, we will see that he consistently took a critical stance. He was an active advocate for government transparency and openness, and the author of numerous research papers.”

The human rights advocate states that the existing kleptocratic and corrupt regime in Azerbaijan sees a threat in all of this.

“Therefore, I am against linking these two events together – if someone creates an organization and is immediately arrested – because of this reason.”

International reaction

The arrest of the well-known Azerbaijani economist has drawn responses from numerous international organizations.

The World Organization Against Torture and other human rights organizations expressed deep concern over the arrest of economist Gubad Ibadoglu and the harsh conditions of his detention.

On August 8th, the organization released a statement stating that Ibadoglu was a leading figure in the non-governmental organization Center for Economic Research, which conducted studies in the field of financial management and budget transparency. The organization closed in 2014 under pressure from the authorities.

Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights House Foundation also joined in making statements on this matter.

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where Gubad Ibadoglu serves as a principal visiting fellow, extended his contract by two years following his arrest.

Amnesty International called upon Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to release Gubad Ibadoglu and urged all concerned individuals to sign the appeal.

On August 25th, it became known that Ibadoglu was facing another charge – the creation, possession, or distribution of religious extremist materials. This charge carries a fine ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 AZN or imprisonment for a period of two to five years.

The new accusation was reported by the daughter of the politician, Zhala Bayramova.

“Given the growing international protests against my father’s arrest, it seems they want to portray him as a ‘religious extremist’ and they might even attach ‘terrorism’ to him. However, all these accusations and claims are absurd and ridiculous,” noted Bayramova.

With the support of “MediaSet”

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