Dr Gubad Ibadoghlu: Son speaks out eight months after LSE academic’s detainment in Azerbaijan

By Vanessa Huang

Dr Gubad Ibadoghlu has been a Senior Visiting Fellow at LSE’s Department of International Relations since 2021. Much of his research centres on corruption in Azerbaijan, particularly through its exports of oil and gas. Dr Ibadoghlu has also, on several occasions, criticised Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. At this very moment, Dr Ibadoghlu sits in a cell in Azerbaijan, awaiting potential criminal charges and a prison sentence of up to 12 years.

Dr Ibadoghlu relies on two insulin injections every day, having developed type one diabetes alongside his preexisting type two diagnosis. His resting heart rate stands at 120 beats per minute. His back pain is so severe that he struggles to get out of bed. His blood pressure and blood sugar are double what would be considered ‘normal’. On top of this, his cardiac issues put him at high risk of a heart attack. He has been denied medical attention and the prison conditions are only worsening his health issues. He has been “left to die in prison,” his son, Ibad Bayramov, says.

Having left Azerbaijan to work in the US and then the UK, Dr Ibadoghlu returned briefly in July 2023 to visit his ailing mother. He and his wife found themselves surrounded by several cars on the way to her house. Without warning, their vehicle was rammed into from two sides. Plainclothes officers then emerged, violently dragging Dr Ibadoghlu and his wife into separate cars, detaining him while his wife was later released.

Bayramov first found out about his father’s arrest from a phone call with his brother. It hadn’t been a huge surprise: Dr Ibadoghlu had long been a dissenting voice against Azerbaijan’s spectre of corruption. He had demanded transparency as a board member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), attended protests, and established an NGO that refused to comply with government regulations. And the government had responded accordingly, summoning him to the police station and levying criminal charges against his NGO. So Bayramov thought this would be like the other times: soon enough, he thought, it would be over.

Eight months on, Dr Ibadoghlu remains in detention, on “trumped-up charges,” as Bayramov puts it. The labyrinth of fabricated charges rests on fake witnesses, planted money and religious extremist material, and allegations from state media organisations of accepting $15 million from foreign governments, he says.

Most disheartening is that Dr Ibadoghlu’s prospects for a fair trial are virtually non-existent. Bayramov describes Azerbaijan as “one of the worst [places] in Europe” with respect to human rights: “the judiciary, rule of law, democracy – none of these things exist in Azerbaijan.” In theory, Dr Ibadoghlu can have legal representation. But most of the country’s lawyers have either been jailed or exiled, and those that remain can only really do “admin,” operating within a wider system of suppression and injustice. In Dr Ibadoghlu’s case, 45 appeals have been filed. None have been accepted.

There are shades of another familiar case in this recounting. Alexei Navalny too was a political prisoner and ardent critic of his government – in his case, most principally, Russian president Vladimir Putin. He died in prison in February this year, and Bayramov is doing everything he can to stop his father from careening towards the same fate.

On LSE’s part, the School released a statement upon Dr Ibadoghlu’s arrest and detention, calling for his release. Several politicians, such as Jeremy Corbyn, have made similar statements; the European Parliament also voted to demand his release. But these statements “are just not enough,” Bayramov says. “The only way to stop it is by taking actions, not with words, not with statements.” He points to the necessity for the imposition of sanctions, akin to those applied for Russia. “It’s high time to say that if you don’t start releasing these people, we’re not going to let this continue.”

Even so, Bayramov sees sanctions alone as insufficient in addressing the systemic issues at hand. Western nations, he contends, have historically engaged in lucrative business deals with countries like Russia and Azerbaijan, allowing them to flourish economically. In 2022, for example, the EU signed a deal with Azerbaijan that would double imports of Azeri natural gas by 2027. Nations ultimately engage with regimes that serve their self-interest. Sanctions then ring hollow when decades of persistent financial backing have laid the foundation for these atrocities to happen in the first place. He elaborates, “How did Russia finance their war in Ukraine? Through selling oil and gas to Europe.” 

Bayramov urges individuals in the UK to contact their MPs, demand answers from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and ensure access to adequate medical treatment for Dr Ibadoghlu. Resident in the UK for two years before his arrest, Bayramov stresses the importance of the UK’s diplomatic intervention to support Dr Ibadoghlu. 

Even within Azerbaijan, Bayramov describes expressions of solidarity that are beginning to emerge. On social media, reports on Dr Ibadoghlu from state-run media increasingly garner dislikes and negative reactions. Unable to quell the growing discontent, comments on Facebook and X abound, indicating a desire for change and justice. 

And perhaps this discontent foreshadows Azerbaijan’s future. Bayramov points to some other post-Soviet states that have had major protests and revolutions: Ukraine, Armenia, and Georgia. “Azerbaijan is the only post-Soviet country [within Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus] that has not had any major changes in the political sense,” he says. Dr Ibadoghlu remains steadfast in his belief that Azerbaijan can one day become a democracy – “and I’m sure he will continue fighting for it until his last breath,” Bayramov adds. 

On a personal level, Bayramov is finding ways to keep going. When the news first broke, he “probably went a month without even understanding that time is passing. All the buildings looked the same; every day looked the same.” 

Still, he remains unwavering in his advocacy and support for his father. “He told us that whatever happens, you should have a goal to fight for,” Bayramov says. “My goal is to get him out of prison. And until that happens, I will keep my hope as high as it was on day one.” 

Vanessa interviews the son of an LSE academic who is currently detained in Azerbaijan


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

scroll to top