Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has pardoned more than 400 people, including several members of the opposition considered to be political prisoners by international rights organizations.
The mass pardon, which Aliyev issued in a decree signed early on March 16, included former Health Minister Ali Insanov, journalist Fikret Faramazoglu, opposition Musavat Party member Alikram Xurshidov, and the deputy chairs of the opposition Popular Front Party, Gozel Bayramli and Fuad Qahramanli.
Insanov was a high-ranking member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party and seen as a possible rival of Aliyev's. He was arrested in 2005 on suspicion of planning a coup attempt and sentenced two years later on embezzlement and bribery charges.
Under the pardon, 399 people will be released from prison, 11 will have their suspended sentences lifted, and 12 will have fines against them dismissed. Three people serving life sentences will have their terms reduced to 25 years.
Aliyev's pardon will also free 14 foreigners from prison, including three Georgians, two Russians, two Nigerians, and one each from Uzbekistan, Iran, Belarus, Turkey, Cameroon, and India.
It is common in Azerbaijan for the president to pardon prisoners ahead of the Norouz new year holiday, which is on March 21.