Azerbaijani Opposition Politician Facing Seven Years Starts Hunger Strike After Judge Deprives Him Of Final Statement

BAKU -- An opposition politician in Azerbaijan who is on trial on what he and his supporters call bogus charges has launched a hunger strike after the judge deprived him of his last statement at the process.

Tofiq Yaqublu, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party and a senior politician in the National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties and activists, was given the floor on September 2 for his final statement in the courtroom as his trial on hooliganism charges neared its end.

However, when Yaqublu used the opportunity to question the legality of the case against him, calling it politically motivated, Judge Nariman Mehdiyev interrupted him several times, and then ruled to deprive the politician of his right to finish the statement.

Yaqublu then announced that he would begin a hunger strike to protest the judge's ruling and the case against him in general.

Yaqublu's verdict and sentence are expected to be pronounced on September 3. A group of his supporters marched in Baku after the trial's September 2 session ended.

Yaqublu was arrested in March after a car hit his vehicle in Baku and the driver of the car started heated debates with the politician.

Yaqublu and human rights groups say the car accident was most was staged to be used for the "bogus" case.

The politician, who frequently criticizes the government and authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev, could face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Critics of Aliyev's government say authorities in the oil-rich Caspian Sea state frequently seek to silence dissent by jailing opposition activists, journalists, and civil-society advocates on trumped-up charges.

Aliyev has ruled Azerbaijan since 2003, taking over for his father, Heidar Aliyev, who served as president for a decade.