CSOs condemn murder attempt against HRD

Human Rights Watch report on violation of liberties in Azerbaijan

In January 2020, Human Rights Watch published a report on the violation of fundamental rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan all throughout 2019. According to the report, most human rights violations related to restrictions on the right to assembly and freedom of expression. The report mainly highlights violations perpetuated by the Azerbaijani authorities on civil society, opposition members and activists, political prisoners in detention as well as some Azerbaijani civic activists who are out of the country. The report also documents how the independent press or human rights defenders were prevented from carrying out their activities, and that protests in Azerbaijan can only be held in certain places permitted by the authorities, and many of them do not receive the necessary authorisation to undertake protests.

In 2019, Ilham Aliyev, the fourth president of Azerbaijan, pardoned several political prisoners. External partners appreciated this decision but also insisted on the release of other illegally detained persons.


Murder attempt against a human rights defender condemned by CSOs

On 4th December 2019, several non-governmental organisations signed a joint statement condemning an attack on prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist Ogtar Gulaliyev. The signatories also called on the authorities to investigate the case transparently and to apply the necessary sanctions on those guilty of the crime.

The statement was made after Gulaliyev was hit by a car in late October 2019 while on a crosswalk in Baku, in what civil society actors claimed was an intentional attempt to intimidate the human rights defender. The NGOs also claimed that Gulaliyev was deprived of the necessary medical help and ignored by doctors, thus worsening his medical condition. Only after multiple public interventions was Ogtar Gulaliyev operated on in Turkey, where he was transferred with the help of the Azerbaijani authorities. Turkish doctors confirmed that the patient's health was impaired by delayed medical intervention.

Gulaliyev had been detained for several months in 2012 by law enforcement in Azerbaijan because of his human rights work, and in 2019 alone he was summoned by authorities eight times who illegally interrogated and intimidated him because of his human rights activities exposing torture and protecting political prisoners. A month before the car incident, he was warned that next time he would not be detained, but that he would be the victim of a fatal accident.


CSOs call for lifting of travel ban against journalist

In a statement published on 15th January 2020, Index on Censorship, Reporters Without Borders UK and Transparency International UK called on the Azerbaijani authorities to lift the travel ban imposed on investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Ismayilova was arrested in 2014 and sentenced in 2015 to seven and a half years in detention on trumped up charges. She was released from detention conditionally in 2016 but has since had a travel ban imposed that prevents her from leaving the country.

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director for Reporters Without Borders said:

“This travel ban is one of many examples of the Azerbaijani authorities’ longstanding persecution of Khadija Ismayilova for her courageous investigative reporting, and she is one of dozens of journalists and activists currently subjected to such measures in Azerbaijan. The ban should be immediately lifted, she should be acquitted of the bogus charges it stemmed from.”

Opposition candidates decry prohibitive campaign costs

Opposition and independent candidates preparing for snap elections slated for February 2020 expressed discontent over the prohibitive cost of television campaigning. This followed the high pricing by the public television outlet where candidates would be required to part with at least 780 USD for one minute of campaigning. In addition, only the public television outlet was providing this paid airtime service for campaigns, as all the other outlets, which are viewed to be controlled by government, did not offer this service even though it would earn money for them. Experts linked the exorbitant cost, and the unavailability of the service by the other outlets, to the authorities’ reluctance to allow their rivals onto the air.

Snap parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan were scheduled for 9th February 2020 after the parliament announced its dissolution at the end of December 2019. 

Azerbaijani blogger assaulted, detained by police officers

According to Radio Free Europe, on 27th December 2019, prominent anti-corruption blogger, Mehman Huseynov, who also ran as a candidate in December 2019’s municipal elections and complained afterward of vote irregularities, was beaten up and detained by police officers together with five others after they were taken to an unknown location. According to Huseynov, the police officers kept asking them to show them where their posters were and why they were organising a rally.

Harlem Desir, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, tweeted:

"I am concerned about reports of last night’s detention and beating by police of the well-known blogger #MehmanHuseynov in Baku #Azerbaijan…I call on the authorities to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into this matter and bring those responsible to justice."

An Interior Ministry spokesman however dismissed Huseynov's accusations of police assault, suggesting that Huseynov was detained while protesting for the release of Azerbaijani rapper Parviz Guluzade, known as Paster, who had recently been sentenced to 30 days’ administrative arrest for disturbing the peace.