A thick, cement wall divided the two men, confined as they were in two claustrophobic, cubic worlds. They could hear each other’s voices, the voices sounded familiar, yet unplaceable. They would vaguely hear comments about each other, their acquaintances, and their common fights.
It took a week for Anar Mammadli to recognize that voice - it was Rasul Jafarov’s, a friend and a colleague. And his new cell neighbor.
Mammadli, 39, and Jafarov, 33, share a mission of human rights defence and activism - the former headed the Monitoring Elections and Democracy Studies, the latter was director of Azerbaijan’s Human Rights’ Club. Between 2014 and 2016 they were both dwellers of Kurdakhani prison, in the outskirt of Baku.
They are two of an increasing number of critical voices of the Azerbaijani authorities’ violation of human rights. Currently there are 146 political prisoners - they were 119 in December 2016. Mammadli voiced irregularities in the 2013 parliamentary vote: he was then charged with tax evasion, and abuse of official authority to influence the vote results and was jailed. Jafarov followed suit and was put behind bars in August 2014 - his cell, N 7.32 was right next to Mammadli’s, N 7.31.
Both released in 2016, they were awarded international awards for their human rights’ actions while in jail. But what is life like behind bars for two vocal individuals fighting for basic rights, like freedom of expression? Political prisoners are restricted from basic communication tools - including limited access to newspapers and they are allowed 10 minute calls twice a week from the prison’s landline. How can they keep pace with the outside world and communicate?