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After serving more than a year in prison in his native Azerbaijan, pro-democracy activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev MPP 2009 is once again a free man. Hajiyev was released from custody on June 2, on the eve of a visit to Baku by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"My former Harvard classmates, Harvard community members, former colleagues and a group of young Azerbaijanis started a wide international campaign for my release," Hajiyev wrote. "My release would not have been possible without their extraordinary efforts."
The circumstances of Hajiyev's arrest and conviction remain nebulous, but several prominent human rights groups defended his actions and pressured the government to set him free.
Secretary of State Clinton met with Hajiyev at the U.S. Embassy in Baku on June 4, telling reporters that she hoped Hajiyev "will be able to continue his work without interference."
"Her decision to meet me two days after my release sent a message to Azerbaijani society that the United States of America stays committed to supporting democratic reforms," Hajiyev wrote. "I thanked her for her help and expressed my hope that positive, constructive approach to democratic reforms in Azerbaijan will have its results."
Hajiyev says that he tried to use his time in prison as constructively as possible.
"In our prison facility there were up to 800 inmates; most of them were uneducated and did not know their rights. I used my time to give them legal consultations, helped them to write their appeal applications," he wrote. "I've tried to continue my public service in prison as a prisoner and understood that when an individual is committed to public service, prison is also a great place to help others."
Under the terms of Hajiyev's release, he is to remain in Azerbaijan for the next nine months, during which time he plans to renew his pro-democracy efforts.
"I will continue my activism by motivating and mobilizing young leaders to build a strong civil society," he stated. "Our people deserve a democratic society and a democratic Azerbaijan will make a better partner for the free world."
Hajiyev says he remains committed to the goal of democratic reforms in his country.
"Azerbaijan is a great country with wonderful people. My country realizes huge energy projects, but we still need democratic and economic reforms for sustainable development. A new generation of young citizens of independent Azerbaijan will help to demand, push and realize these reforms. It is hard, it is risky, but we want to be on the right side of history," he wrote.
Hajiyev meets with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Baku on June 4
"I will continue my activism by motivating and mobilizing young leaders to build a strong civil society," Hajiyev stated. "Our people deserve a democratic society and a democratic Azerbaijan will make a better partner for the free world."
Hajiyev at Harvard Commencement, June 2009