The Azerbaijani parliament on Tuesday approved a prisoner amnesty proposed by the country’s glamorous and powerful first lady that will likely see thousands of convicts released.
The move — put forward by Mehriban Aliyeva, the influential wife of strongman President Ilham Aliyev — should see some 2,000 prisoners, mainly women, disabled and elderly convicts, released and 7,000 more have their sentences cut, according to the new law.
“I believe that being able to forgive, with goodwill and humanity, can change a lot in this world for the better,” Aliyeva, who is a member of parliament, told the largely rubber-stamp legislative body before it approved the act without a debate.
Aliyeva’s husband Ilham — who in 2003 succeeded his father Heydar, a KGB officer and Communist-era boss, as president — has faced sustained criticism for the country’s allegedly poor human rights record.
Oil-rich Azerbaijan’s economy has boomed since Aliyev came to power, but rights groups say that freedom of expression is being suppressed and dissenting voices silenced.
Azerbaijani security forces earlier this year brutally suppressed several demonstrations including one over alleged hazing in the army and arrested scores of protestors.
Aliyeva, 48, was born into one of Azerbaijan’s most powerful families that, according to a leaked 2010 US cable, has amassed a fortune through its involvement in the country’s lucrative construction, financial and telecommunications industries.
Aliyeva is known for her love of sometimes racy designer clothes and according to the same leaked US diplomatic cables has allegedly undergone extensive cosmetic surgery and “appears unable to show a full range of facial expression”.
The amnesty act is intended to mark the upcoming 90th anniversary of the birth of Aliyeva’s deceased father-in-law, former president Heydar. It is expected to come into effect on Wednesday.