Repression of civic freedoms in Azerbaijan only worsens
In March 2017, the Committee on Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe declassified the discussions it held in January 2017 with the Azerbaijani authorities. The Council of Europe (CoE) delegation at the discussions recommended that the government reform its NGO legislation. The delegation further stated that the CoE could assist in the legislative reform and implementation process to ensure compliance with European standards. Several issues facing civil society in Azerbaijan were also noted in the declassified report, namely NGOs' dependence on state funds, restrictions on freedom of expression and government interference in civil society activities.
In February 2017, the Human Rights House Network reported that the Azerbaijani authorities have been ignoring warnings and recommendations from the international and European community to improve the human rights situation in the country. In a briefing note published in March 2017, several international and Azerbaijani organisations called upon the United Nations Human Rights Council to immediately address the crackdown on civil society and repression of human rights defenders in the country. In particular, the organisations expressed their concern over legislation that allows the state to control civil society activities, which has in turn led to the arbitrary detention and imprisonment of human rights defenders, journalists and activists.
The socio-economic situation for internally-displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh has returned to the spotlight. In February 2017, a group of IDPs and refugees held a protest against the forced installation of electric power meters by the state-run Azerishyq company. Some clashes occurred and the police arrived at the scene to intervene, but there were not reports of major violence, injury or arrest. According to Jamnews, the protest took place in Qizilqum and Pirshagi settlements, some 20 kilometres north of Baku, where IDPs from Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied areas have been living since the 1990s, when the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan began.
In February 2017, the Azerbaijani diaspora organised actions to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre. In Munich, the rally was co-organised by European Azerbaijani Congress, Bielefeld Azerbaijan Cultural Center, Baku Nurnberg Cultural and Educational Society, as well as Munich-based Turkish diaspora organisations. In Georgia a group of Azeri activists organised a flash-mob on Rustavi Avenue to raise public awareness of the massacre.
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, journalist and blogger, Mehman Huseynov, has been targeted by the authorities for publishing critical articles about the regime and political figures. On 3rd March 2017, Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison on libel charges. The OSCE and other international organisations have demanded his immediate release.
On 17th February 2017, another Azeri journalist, Elchin Ismayilli, was arrested. Ismayilli is well-known for his articles on Kend.info detailing acts of corruption and human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The authorities charged him with extortion and abuse of power in a position of influence. Nasimi District Court sentenced Ismayilli to a pretrial detention period of 24 days.