Elnur Huseynzade interviewed after his release on Feb. 2, 2019. Image grab from Artsakh TV.
Elnur Huseynzade interviewed after his release on Feb. 2, 2019. Image grab from Artsakh TV.

On February 2, former Azerbaijani army serviceman Elnur Huseynzade was released after two years in prison for “illegal border crossing,” the Artsakh authorities reported several days later. Huseynzade was a contract serviceman with Azerbaijani military unit based north of Nagorno Karabakh and surrendered to Armenian forces near the village of Talish on February 1, 2017.

Because the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense denied that he was its serviceman, Huseynzade was not treated as a prisoner of war and instead prosecuted for illegal trespassing. Upon his release, Huseynzade said he did not want to return to Azerbaijan, where he is likely to be imprisoned as have other Azerbaijani military members detained in Armenia before.

The Azerbaijani government revealed this week that the day after his capture, Huseynzade was charged with “state treason” by that country’s military prosecutor’s office, even though officials claimed that he was no longer a military serviceman.  Since the early 2000s, Azerbaijan prosecuted dozens of former prisoners of war for “state treason,” sentencing most of them to between 12 and 15 years in prison. As a result several military servicemen captured by Armenian forces refused to return to Azerbaijan and preferred seeking asylum in Europe instead.

Azerbaijan is currently holding three Armenian civilians. Two of them have been sentenced to long prison terms on charges of “sabotage,” the third has been held without any known charges. All three are believed to have suffered from psychiatric conditions since before they crossed the Line of Contact. Azerbaijani officials sought to exchange these individuals for two of their citizens imprisoned in Artsakh since 2014 on charges of murder and kidnapping. The Armenian government refused any such exchange.

In recent years, most ethnic Armenian men apprehended in Azerbaijan have been accused of sabotage or espionage, several have died in custody or shortly after release.