Journalist released, declares Azerbaijan "one big jail"

Expression

On 19th September 2017, the Ministry of Taxation of the Republic of Azerbaijan sent a letter to Turan News Agency reinstating financial penalties, which it had recalled just a few days earlier. At the time of writing, the agency faces a fine of 37,000 manat (18,300 EUR). 

Turan is one of the few remaining independent media outlets in Azerbaijan and has come under repeated pressure from the authorities. On 25th August 2017, Turan's director Mehman Aliyev was arrested for tax evasion. The Azeri opposition claims the move is an attack on freedom of speech in Azerbaijan. Fuad Agayev, Aliyev's lawyer, said that the charges against his client are politically motivated. On 12th September 2017, Aliyev was released from custody but is under police surveillance and cannot leave the country.

The U.S. Department of State released a statement urging the government of Azerbaijan to immediately release Aliyev and all those incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms. In an interview with Netgazeti, Aliyev asserted that "nothing has changed, I was only released from jail...it is no longer dangerous to get arrested - Azerbaijan is already one big jail".

Another freedom of expression violation in Azerbaijan become more public in July 2017 when Amnesty International reported that Azerbaijani journalist Aziz Orujov had been held in detention on false charges since 2nd May 2017. According to Amnesty, the journalist is being held in inhumane conditions. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 18th August 2017, two internally-displaced people (IDPs) were sentenced to 18 months in prison after participating in a protest over a power shortage in settlements for IDPs. Three others were conditionally released. On 22nd December 2016, police had dispersed the protesters who were demanding an exemption from paying for electricity. Nine police officers were injured during the clashes with protesters. Protesters Jalal Guliyev, Zaur Feyruzlu, Gyulaga Almamedov, Ulvi Guliyev and Ilkin Isgandarov were detained following the protests on charges of harming the police. Human rights defenders have reportedly acknowledged the five protesters as political prisoners.

Association

In July 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE adopted a resolution on Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia. Proposed by Swedish MP Christian Holm Barenfeld, the document criticises the human rights situation in these three countries and expresses concern over 

"the deterioration of democratic development, the continuing and increasing violations of human rights, as well as the plight of political opposition, civil society, journalists and other defenders of freedom..."

The Azerbaijani delegation to the OSCE meeting (represented by the vice-speaker in the Azeri parliament) responded to the criticism by denying any wrongdoing. 

Following their September visit to Azerbaijan, two co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Stefan Schennach and Cezar Florin Preda, made a statement about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan in which they urged Azeri authorities to amend the legislation on NGOs to allow them to function and receive funding that more fully complies with European standards. PACE also organised a debate on “The functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan” in Strasbourg on 11th October 2017, during the plenary session, on the basis of the report adopted on 7th September by the Monitoring Committee.