Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School serving a two-year sentence in his native Azerbaijan on charges that he avoided military service, was denied parole in an appellate court last week.
His supporters—including many Kennedy School students and faculty—contend that the government detained Hajiyev in March 2011 on false charges in order to silence his work calling attention to election fraud and corruption in the national government.
After earning a Masters in Public Policy degree from the Kennedy School in 2009, Hajiyev returned to Azerbaijan to run for Parliament and pursue a Ph.D. in the neighboring Republic of Georgia.
While men between the ages of 18 and 35 are liable for military service of at least a year in Azerbaijan, studying abroad and running for Parliament both typically allow men to receive postponement of draft duties, according to Hajiyev’s supporters.
After several run-ins with authorities, Hajiyev was detained in Feb. 2011 and again in March of that year for his involvement on Facebook in protests against government corruption and election fraud.
When he was arrested the second time on charges of draft evasion, he was allegedly questioned about his inflammatory publications on Facebook.
Many in the international community have been critical of the motives behind Hajiyev’s arrest.
“Bakhtiyar Hajiyev’s arrest has all the hallmarks of the harassment and intimidation the Azerbaijani authorities all too often resort to in respect of government critics,” Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director John Dalhuisen said.
“As a registered student and a parliamentary candidate, he is doubly excused from military service, and he quite clearly should not have been detained on these grounds.”
Amnesty International and other groups, including Human Rights Watch, have decried Hajiyev’s treatment at the hands of Azerbaijani authorities. Police officers have allegedly beaten, strangled, and threatened to rape him while in custody, according to Amnesty International.
The embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan did not respond to requests for comment.
A year after Hajiyev’s incarceration, the Harvard community continues to protest his imprisonment. Kennedy School Executive Dean John A. Haigh and numerous Harvard professors wrote a letter to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Hajiyev’s behalf, and more than 500 students and community members signed a petition addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for his immediate release.
“Our training at Harvard is focused on advancing the public interest, and Bakhtiyar has dedicated his life to fostering democracy in Azerbaijan,” said Rob Ness, a Kennedy School classmate of Hajiyev’s. “Our partnerships abroad should be based on a mutual commitment to democracy, human rights, and freedom of dissent.”
—Staff writer Ethan G. Loewi can be reached at email@example.com.