Law 18:23 13/06/2024 Armenia

Azerbaijan's government accused of media crackdown before hosting Cop29

Azerbaijan’s government has been accused of cracking down on media and civil society activism before the country’s hosting of crucial UN climate talks later this year, the Guardian reports.

Human Rights Watch has found at least 25 instances of the arrest or sentencing of journalists and activists in the past year, almost all of whom remain in custody.

Many campaigners and civil society groups have spoken of their concerns that climate advocacy was being stifled amid a media clampdown. Azerbaijan will host the UN Cop29 climate summit over two weeks in November, when nearly 200 governments, including dozens of heads of state, are expected to thrash out a new global approach to providing the funds needed to tackle the climate crisis.

Azerbaijan, an authoritarian state where media and civic freedoms are curtailed, is regarded as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, coming 154th out of 180 states in a ranking by Transparency International last year. There is little effective political opposition and the president, Ilham Aliyev, won more than 92% of the vote in elections in February to take a fifth consecutive term. His father was Heydar Aliyev, who led the country under Soviet rule and was installed as president after a military coup in 1993 followed the breakup of the eastern bloc.

Azerbaijan is also accused of holding political prisoners. A war with neighbouring Armenia last year over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region ended with 100,000 people being displaced from their homes.

One of Aliyev’s top advisers said a few weeks ago that the government intended to make Cop29 a “Cop of peace”, and to call for a Cop truce in which hostilities would be suspended around the world for the duration of the talks.

Campaigners raised their concerns at a pre-Cop29 meeting of governments in Bonn, where the secretariat for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is based. Officials from around the world are in the midst of two weeks of meetings to discuss the key issues that will dominate the Cop29 summit, including the vexed question of how to provide sufficient finance to help the developing world cut greenhouse gas emissions and cope with the impacts of global heating.

A protest was held at the entrance to the Bonn talks on Friday evening – the midpoint of the discussions – calling for the release of 23 Armenian political prisoners held in Azerbaijan. Some protesters accused the government of genocide.

Myrto Tilianaki, a senior environmental advocate at Human Rights Watch, highlighted the case of Anar Mammadli, a member of the Human Rights Houses network, who was arrested on 29 April on smuggling charges. He is a founder of the Climate of Justice Initiative, which aims to use Cop29 to push for environmental justice in Azerbaijan.

Ibad Bayramov is campaigning for the release of his father, Gubad Ibadoghlu, a research fellow at the London School of Economics and civil rights activist, who was imprisoned last summer and whose health has badly deteriorated, requiring urgent medical treatment which his family say he is not receiving.

Bayramov said: “Cop29 lends legitimacy on the world stage to the government’s illegitimate imprisonment of my father. As his health has deteriorated to extreme levels, western governments continue to meet weekly with their Azerbaijani counterparts regarding Cop29. Meaningful progress on climate change cannot be achieved in a country where individuals like my father are imprisoned and tortured for speaking out.”

Paul Polman, a former CEO of Unilever who now campaigns on climate and human rights issues, said he wanted to use Cop29 as an opportunity for the international community to talk about Azerbaijan’s treatment of prisoners, about which he has serious concerns. “I hope that Cop29 can be used as an opening,” he said. “But it’s appalling that human rights has not been on the agenda. After Cop29, there will not be a spotlight on Azerbaijan’s record.”

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