Politics 18:37 13/04/2016

Freedom House: Huge wave of nationwide protests to spread across Azerbaijan amid mounting crisis in 2016

According to the international human rights organization Freedom House’s annual Nations in Transit 2016 report, the civil society situation and the judicial system are worsening in authoritarian Azerbaijan. The country got a score of 6.86 out of 7, which is the worst result. The report can be found on Freedom House website Armenia got a score of 5.36 and is considerably ahead of Azerbaijan in terms of freedom. 

As the report reads, Azerbaijan remains a deeply authoritarian state, and 2015 saw further aggressive steps from the executive to eliminate all criticism and dissent against a backdrop of mounting economic crisis. President IlhamAliyev and his Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) deepened their monopoly on political life in 2015. Rejecting an unfree and unfair electoral system, all of the major opposition parties boycotted the November 1 parliamentary elections.

YAP won 71 seats out of 125 in the parliament, with the remainder of seats going to “independents” and the pocket opposition. International observers had a limited presence at the elections, while the local observer groups reported ballot stuffing and inflated reports of voter turnout, among other issues.
Azerbaijan’s civil society was decimated by the 2014 wave of purges and arrests and faced further persecution in 2015. The already bleak media situation also deteriorated. As of December, Azerbaijan had eight journalists in jail. It is emphasized that the imprisonment of renowned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova did not prevent her from continuing her investigations into human rights violations and high-level corruption in Azerbaijan. The year also was marred by the murder of photojournalist RasimAliyev, who was beaten to death in circumstances that suggested a political motive, according to the Freedom House report.

“Self-censorship and a lack of funding have become the norm among Azerbaijani media. Critical outlets like Meydan TV are forced to broadcast from outside the country and work with anonymous reporters inside Azerbaijan. The extended families of such journalists, as well as civil society activists, suffered intense harassment and persecution within the country,” the report reads.

As for the corruption, Azerbaijan appears to have made some progress in reducing petty corruption through the increasingly popular ASAN service centers, however, new facts emerge about the president Aliyev and his clan’s business-empires. It is reminded that Aliyev and his family members expropriate and squander Azerbaijan’s national wealth for their own benefit.

According to the report, after the national currency manat’s double devaluation, the county’s economic situation is in a very poor condition. Persistently low oil prices will continue to wield economic pressure in 2016, and protests over basic economic issues could spread across the country. A national budget that relied on oil revenues will be severely strained and cuts will be required, either from social spending or from the government’s treasured international prestige projects, like the Formula 1 racing. Azerbaijan’s traditional political opposition will remain weak and divided in 2016, but the country’s younger generation has shown great potential for leadership, activism, and expression, particularly through social media. In response, the Aliyev regime will likely continue to crush even the slightest blushes of dissent among youth.

The report further states that prior to the elections, the government continued its repression of political opposition candidates and their relatives. Harassment of National Council of Democratic Forces head Jamil Hasanli’s relatives was particularly striking. In February, his daughter, GunelHasanli, was sentenced to one and a half year’s imprisonment for allegedly hitting an elderly woman with her vehicle. Popular Front Party advisor Mamed Ibrahim also remains in prison.

The repression continued after the election. Seven relatives of well-known opposition politician PanahHuseynwere arrested on fabricated accusations and convicted. One was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, while the others received two years of correctional labor. In 2015, well-known political opposition activist FuadGahramanliwas arrested and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. Popular Front Party activist FuadAhmadliwas arrested for fabricated accusations and political motives.
In October 2015, CoE Secretary General ThorbjørnJagland announced his decision on the departure from a joint human rights working group involving the CoE and the government of Azerbaijan. It was noted in Jagland’s statement that an increasing number of human rights defenders is being imprisoned in Azerbaijan.

The government has increased restrictions on the work of international organizations. In July, the OSCE closed its Baku project office. In March, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Giorgi Gogiawas detained for 31 hours at the Baku airport before being deported. Amnesty International researchers were refused entrance to the country in the run-up to the European Games in June. Researcher Emma Hughes of the British NGO Platform was also denied entry around the time of the European Games.
It is also noted in the report that a deadly raid highlighted the government’s tight control over religious activism. Four people died and two police officers were killed when police sealed off the town of Nardaran in an operation to arrest a young Shiite cleric and Muslim Unity movement leader TalehBagirzade. The cleric and several others stand accused of “planning an armed coup.”

It is highlighted in the report that Azerbaijan’s LGBT community faces serious danger. It is reminded that a European Parliament resolution adopted in September heavily criticized the agitation of hatred against the LGBT community in Azerbaijan, as well as against the obstruction and intimidation of human rights defenders working for the rights of LGBTI people.

The Nations in Transit 2016 report covers the situation in 29 states from central Europe to central Asia over the period of January 1 to December 31, 2015.

Freedom House analyzes the situation in every country based on 7 key indicators: electoral process, civil society, independent media, corruption, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence. The average rate of the given indicators makes up the democratic score of the country. The score is assessed on 7-point scale, where 7 is the worst indicator.

According to the report, Georgia got 4.61 scores, Ukraine – 4.68, Moldova – 4.89, Kyrgyzstan – 5.89, Tajikistan – 6.54, Russia – 6.50, Kazakhstan – 6.61, Belarus – 6.64, and Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan both received 6.93 scores. 

Source Panorama.am
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