Opposition rallies ahead of early presidential election

Peaceful Assembly

Protests ahead of April presidential election

In February and March 2018, several protests took place in Baku, mostly organised by opposition political parties opposed to the 11th April 2018 presidential elections – which are being held six months before the legally allowed time. President Ilham Alyiev had issued a decree on 5th February 2018 citing national security concerns and threats from neighbouring Armenia as reasons to hold the election six months early. The Azeri opposition opposes the move and mobilised supporters in protest against the early election. About 1,500 came out in rallies organised by the Musavat Party and the National Council of Democratic Forces calling for a boycott. Reports indicated that the protests were authorised but protest organisers were warned against using some slogans and were only allowed to use slogans permitted by the Mayor of Baku.

Association

Calling on investors to condition loans to Azeri authorities

On 2nd February 2018, several international organisations wrote the president of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Dr. Werner Hoyer, requesting that the EIB consider the Azeri government’s sustained and vicious crackdown on the country’s civil society sector when deciding on further investment in Azerbaijan. The letter urged the EIB to comply with the principles of the EU's External Action, as set out in Article 21 of the EU treaty, and to ensure that the EIB abides by its obligations under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights when engaging in business deals with the Azeri authorities, in particular the loans for several energy projects such as the Trans-Adriatic and Trans-Anatolian Pipelines.

This is not the first letter of its kind. In recent years, international organisations have urged European decision makers to condition their economic and energy partnerships, keeping in mind the situation for civil society and human rights. 

New politically-motivated court decision against a religious leader

Radio Free Europe reported that a court in Baku has sentenced a religious group leader to seven years in prison. On 6th March 2018, Ahsan Nuruzade, leader of the Muslim Unity Movement, was found guilty of illegal possession of drugs with the intention of selling. Nuruzade was arrested in October 2017, but he rejected the charges, claiming that the heroin was planted in his pocket by police. In his opinion, the case against him was in retaliation for his participation in anti-government rallies and his support for dozens of people who remain imprisoned in the Nardaran case, when 87 people were arrested in the predominately Shia village in 2015 in a series of raids against alleged religious extremists. Seven people were killed, including two police officers. Human rights defenders are of the opinion that the case can be described as a politically-motivated crackdown on dissent. Radio Free Europe confirmed that the leader of the Muslim Unity Movement, Taleh Bagirzade, his deputy Abbas Huseynov, opposition Popular Front Party leader Fuad Qahramanli, and 15 other men also involved in the Nardaran case and arrested during the raids were sentenced to between 10 and 20 years imprisonment in January 2017 on charges of terrorism, inciting religious hatred, organising mass unrest, illegal possession of weapons and even murder. 

Expression

Journalist followed by authorities

Ten years ago, Azeri journalist Fikret Huseynli left Azerbaijan. He recently reported that the Ukrainian police had been following him in Kyiv - surveillance which he believes is linked to Azerbaijan's security services. According to the journalist, the police came to his flat and tried to force him into detention, threatening him with extradition. The journalist, however, managed to escape. Huseynli previously worked for Turan News Agency reporting on corruption at the highest official levels in the energy sector. Radio Free Europe reported that Huseynli was transiting through Ukraine when the incident occurred and that he had been listed on Interpol. Various international media organisations and other international bodies have requested that the Ukrainian officials do not extradite Huseynli and rather allow him to return to the Netherlands where he currently resides. For example, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum Steering Committee issued an official statement urging the Ukrainian authorities to ensure Fikret Huseynli's personal safety. The Committee also insists that the Ukrainian authorities refuse the extradition request and that international institutions involved in solving this case (such as Interpol) ensure that international standards and procedures of dealing with such situations be followed.