Politics 20:24 14/10/2014

BBC: Nobody is untouchable in Azerbaijan and it is critical point in history of civil society

The Centre for National and International Studies in Azerbaijan is one of dozens of non-governmental organisations under investigation by the Azeri authorities. And the crackdown is taking place as oil-rich Azerbaijan chairs Europe's leading pro-democracy institution, the Council of Europe. First the government weakened the opposition, then targeted independent media, and now the NGOs, writes Leyla Aliyeva, the head of the Centre for National and International Studies in Azerbaijan, the BBC reports.

As the article notes in most cases the authorities have frozen bank accounts or launched tax inspections, forcing NGOs that received foreign grants to suspend projects. Other organisations include Transparency International, Irex, National Endowment for Democracy and Oxfam.

In recent months, the pressure on the government's critics has intensified. Two prominent human rights activists, Leyla Yunus and Rasul Jafarov, were arrested in late July. They had been compiling a list of Azerbaijan's political prisoners. Their names have since been added to the document. The list records 98 individuals in detention, among them human rights activists, opposition members, journalists and bloggers.

Mrs Yunus, a veteran human rights campaigner and an advocate of reconciliation with neighbouring Armenia, won one of France's most prestigious awards, the Legion of Honour, last year. She and her husband, Arif Yunus were charged with high treason, the article reads. "After 36 years of living together we are in different cells in different prisons," Mrs Yunus wrote in a letter to her husband in late August. "We just never would have predicted that the 21st Century would bring the repression of the 1930s," she said.
Human Rights Watch has described the charges against the couple as "completely bogus". Apparently no-one is untouchable in Azerbaijan. At this stage all critical civil society is pretty much exterminated," says Georgi Gogia, the group's senior researcher in the Caucasus.

The Azeri government denies the charges are politically motivated. "The rule of law is guaranteed in Azerbaijan," said Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev, in a written statement to the BBC.

Critics have frequently been targeted since pro-democracy protests in 2011 erupted on the streets of Baku, inspired by the so-called Arab Spring, the article reads. “It's shocking that the chairman is basically a dictatorship using its chairmanship period this summer to arrest literally every three days all the critical minds that defend the very value of the institution,” says Gerald Knauss, who heads the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative (ESI).

As noted in the article Azerbaijan's chairmanship may have hurt the Council's reputation, the secretary-general's spokesman Daniel Holtgen concedes. None of the member states asked to postpone or cancel Azerbaijan's chairmanship. The reluctance of Council of Europe members to sanction Azerbaijan may in part be down to Europe's relationship with the oil-rich nation as a key energy supplier and trade partner.

The article also reads that in September, oil giant BP celebrated the start of the Southern Gas Corridor. Before the ceremony, which also marked BP's 20 years of co-operation with Azerbaijan, Human Rights Watch wrote to the company's chief executive to take a stance against the crackdown on civil rights.

BP did not respond to the letter publicly but, in a written statement to the BBC, said that it believed that the government of Azerbaijan had a primary responsibility to protect human rights.

Source Panorama.am
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