Baku, Azerbaijan - A Baku Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court's refusal to release an Azerbaijani human rights activist on bail, the activist's lawyer, Rovshana Rahimli, told VOA.
Rahimli said the health of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been on a hunger strike since January 9, is deteriorating.
"Hajiyev is feeling weaker compared to previous days. He is experiencing dizziness," she said.
Rahimli said Hajiyev has experienced increased headaches and aches in his heart. She said a doctor at the detention center examined him and warned of serious damage to his brain.
"Unfortunately, the detention center does not have computer tomography or echocardiogram equipment. He [the doctor] asked them to consider this matter. [Hajiyev] must undergo computer tomography and echocardiogram," Rahimli said.
VOA confirmed Hajiyev's hunger strike with the Penitentiary Service's public relations department, which confirmed he is being monitored by a doctor in the prison's medical unit.
Hajiyev was arrested on December 9, 2022 and charged with "hooliganism" and contempt of court. He was ordered by the Khatai District Court to spend one and a half months of pretrial detention. On January 21, the court extended his pretrial detention until February 28, based on an investigator's petition. If convicted, Hajiyev could face up to three years in prison.
He has denied the allegations, saying he is being persecuted for his political activities, including criticism of the government in international forums.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price expressed concern about Hajiyev's detention and called for his prompt release.
"We remain strongly committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And again, we urge the government to [respect] its citizens' rights, including the right to express views peacefully," Price said on January 9 in a daily news briefing.
Hajiyev previously sent a public letter addressed to the Azerbaijani people through the Defense Line human rights organization in which he said he was aware of the risks the hunger strike would have on his life and health, but it was the only way to have his voice heard.
"Unfortunately, due to the fact that the courts in our country act as a notary of people who are maniacally trying to take revenge on me even while I am in prison, the only way to convey my voice to the country's public, international organizations, and decision-makers with a state mind, if there are any, is to sacrifice my life," the letter posted on Facebook by the Defense Line co-founder Rufat Safarov, read.
Bahruz Maharramov, a member of the Azerbaijan parliament, dismissed the claims that Hajiyev's imprisonment is related to his political activities and said criminal prosecution against him was carried out in accordance with the criminal procedural legislation.
"Political stance, work, profession, reputation, social status of any citizen does not give them any advantage. In Azerbaijan, the criminal process is carried out on the basis of equality of rights of everyone before the law and the court," Maharramov said.
Numerous local and international organizations have condemned Hajiyev's arrest and demanded his release.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Monday and raised concerns about human rights in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani authorities have not yet commented on the local and international reactions to Hajiyev's arrest.
This story originated in VOA's Azerbaijani Service.