Human rights in Azerbaijan
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
- 1 Effect of international treaties
- 2 Electoral rights
- 3 Freedom of assembly and expression of political beliefs
- 4 Political prisoners
- 5 Freedom of the media
- 6 Corruption
- 7 Illegal eviction
- 8 LGBT rights
- 9 2011 European Parliament resolution
- 10 2017 European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center reports
- 11 2017 Report of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
- 12 Situation in Nakhchivan
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
Effect of international treaties
The Council of Europe admitted Azerbaijan to the full-membership on 25 January 2001. Azerbaijan ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) on 15 April 2002. Since the ratification, everyone who claims to be the victim of a violation of his (her) rights or liberties defined by ECHR as a result of the activity or inactivity of the Republic of Azerbaijan has right to sue against Azerbaijan before the European Court of Human Rights. Despite being a member of such bodies as the Human Rights Council and Council of Europe, several independent bodies, such as Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly criticized the Azerbaijani government for its human rights record.
Among other concerns, authorities have been accused of arbitrary arrests, indefinite detentions, severe beatings, torture, and forced disappearances. Despite the existence of independent news outlets, journalists who criticize the government are often severely harassed, imprisoned, and even physically assaulted. In the 2013-14 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, Azerbaijan ranked 160th out of an overall total of 180 nations. President Ilham Aliyev, inherited power from his late father Heydar Aliyev, who maintained an extensive cult of personality. Ilham Aliyev has often been criticized for failing to improve the situation of civil liberties from his father's policies. Public demonstrations against the ruling regime are not tolerated, and authorities often use violence to disperse protests.
All citizens of Azerbaijan have right to elect and be elected, and to participate in referendums. The Parliament of Azerbaijan adopted the Electoral Code on 27 May 2003. Although Azerbaijan is nominally a secular and representative democracy, recent elections there have widely been contested as fraudulent and 'seriously flawed.' Azerbaijani media coverage of the election is considered to be overwhelmingly biased in favor of the administration. Also, former President, Heidar Aliyev, is known to have filled the Central and Local electoral commissions with government supporters prior to various key elections since 2003. Irregular incidents such as voting chiefs running off with the ballots, ballot stuffing, multiple voting, and vote-tampering were recorded by international monitors.
During the 2013 election, an official smartphone app run by the Central Election Commission inadvertently released final election results, a day before voting locations had opened. The results showed Ilham Aliyev having won with 72.76% of the recorded votes, while the nearest opposing candidate, Jamil Hasanli, tallied just 7.4%. The data was recalled, with an official claim is that the app's developer had mistakenly tested the app with 2008 election results, but the data released did not match the voter totals, nor the winning percentages of the 2008 election.
On 10 October Hasanli called for the results to be annulled due to vote-rigging, claiming the elections were not free and fair because of electoral fraud and government control of all television channels.
Azerbaijan has been harshly criticized for bribing members and officials from international organizations to legitimize the fraudulent elections, a practice which has been termed as "caviar diplomacy". Recently this has been the case with MEPs of the European Parliament, whose positive assessment of Azerbaijani elections sparked a major scandal in Europe. European Stability Initiative (ESI) think tank has published a series of detailed reports exposing the vested interest of the observation missions participating in Azerbaijani elections.
Freedom of assembly and expression of political beliefs
Up until June 2005, the Azerbaijani people did not enjoy freedom of assembly. The blanket ban on opposition gatherings was lifted after national pressure, but events leading up to parliamentary elections later that year proved this to be merely a nominal change for a very short time. The authorities denied opposition supporters the right to demonstrate or hold rallies in or near any city centres. Those attending opposition rallies that had not been sanctioned by the government were beaten and arrested en masse. Police were known to detain opposition activists, in an attempt to 'convince' them into giving up their political work. Youth movement members and opposition members were detained for conspiring to overthrow the government, a charge that has not been substantiated. After the elections not a single opposition rally was allowed.
According to the Human Rights Watch 2013 report, "Azerbaijan’s record on freedom of expression, assembly, and association has been on a steady decline for some years, but it has seen a dramatic deterioration since mid-2012". In April 2014 RPT-European human rights organization reported that human rights, particularly freedom of expression, assembly and association, are deteriorating in Azerbaijan.
International pressure has been exerted on Azerbaijan to release its number of political prisoners. Since joining the Council of Europe, the Azerbaijani government have released one hundred political prisoners, but many remain in custody, and opposition supporters continue to be detained without proof of wrongdoing.
In March 2011, opposition activists Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Jabbar Savalan were arrested after they helped to organize Arab Spring-style protests through Facebook. Both were given prison terms on unrelated charges. Their arrests were protested by the European Parliament, Human Rights Watch, and Index on Censorship. Amnesty International named both men prisoners of conscience and called for their immediate release. Jabbar Savalan was released from prison after 11 months on 26 December 2011. In April 2012, human rights and environmental activist Ogtay Gulaliyev was arrested and allegedly tortured; he was released in June.
Later on in 2013, seven young activists, including four board members, of Nida Civic Movement were kidnapped and arrested after the protests held against the non-combat military deaths in March and April in Baku. They are charged with preparing the riots during the protests in Baku. Initially, the young people were charged with illegal possession of weapons and drugs. As reported by International human rights organization Amnesty International, some of the eight activists of NIDA, who were arrested on false charges (including 17-year-old Shahin Novruzlu), were tortured. Amnesty International recognized all the arrested young men as prisoners of conscience. However, in 2014, four of them, and in 2016, other four members of NIDA have been released by a presidential order. Amnesty International welcomed that development.
Freedom of the media
The authorities use a range of measures to restrict freedom of the media within the country. Opposition and independent media outlets and journalists have their access to print-houses and distribution networks limited, or can find themselves facing defamation charges and crippling fines and are subject to intimidation tactics, including imprisonment on fabricated charges.
Most Azerbaijanis receive their information from mainstream television, which is unswervingly pro-government and under strict government control. According to a 2012 report of the NGO "Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS)" Azerbaijani citizens are unable to access objective and reliable news on human rights issues relevant to Azerbaijan and the population is under-informed about matters of public interest.
Azerbaijani authorities have imprisoned several notable journalists. They jailed Mehman Aliyev, the director of an independent media outlet. Aliyev is the director of Turan news agency. "On August 25, 2017, a court in Baku placed Aliyev in pretrial detention for three months during the investigation against him." However, 16 days later- on 11 September 2017, Baku Appellate Court reversed the judgement of the court of first instance and released Mr Aliyev. Several international institutions such as European Federation of Journalists welcomed release of Mr Aliyev.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has stated the charges against many journalists are "fabricated" and "politicized". At the end of 2014, eight journalists remained behind bars. International instances such as the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe have consistently refuted the justifications by the Azerbaijani authorities that jailed journalists had been prosecuted and sentenced for common crimes. Prison conditions for journalists are reported as dire, with routine ill-treatment and denial of medical care. Some journalists remain in jail in Azerbaijan by the end of September 2017. They include:
- Seymur Hazi, a columnist for the newspaper Azadliq, on a charge of hooliganism;
- Abdul Abilov, blogger, on charges of illegal storage and sale of drugs;
- Nijat Aliyev, editor-in-chief of the azadxeber.az news website, on various charges, including drug possession and inciting hatred;
- Rashad Ramazanov, an independent blogger, on charges of illegal storage and sale of drugs.
Corruption in Azerbaijan is considered to be endemic in all areas of Azerbaijani politics. The ruling family has aroused suspicion from various independent media outlets for their vast wealth, as evidenced by the purchasing of extensive multimillion-dollar properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Some measures have been taken against corruption in recent years.
Azerbaijan has signed the Istanbul Anti-Corruption Action Plan (Istanbul Action Plan, or IAP) which covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan and the other ACN countries in 2003. The Implementation of the plan includes regular and systematic peer review of legal and institutional framework for fighting corruption in the covered countries by the signing parties. Since then Azerbaijan has actively taken part in the monitoring rounds. For the records of reports and updates see
According to Human Rights Watch, beginning in 2008, as part of the urban renewal campaign in Baku, thousands of homeowners were evicted from their houses in many parts of the city to make way for parks, business centres and elite residential areas. The process was engineered by the Mayoralty of Baku and was often carried out without proper warning. The compensations offered were well below the market value. The residents also felt they had few options to win a case in court if they filed a lawsuit. In some cases, demolitions continued regardless of court orders prohibition to do so. Forced evictions worsened in 2011, after Azerbaijan won the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest, and with it, the right to host the 2012 one. These evictions angered many people, and were well exposed in the press, after hundreds were turfed out for Crystal Hall to be built.
While same-sex sexual activity has been technically legal since the repeal of Soviet-era anti-sodomy laws in 2000, Azerbaijan has no laws explicitly protecting LGBT people, and social acceptance of LGBT people remains low. In 2016 the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ranked Azerbaijan as the worst place (49 out of 49) in Europe to be LGBT, citing "a near total absence of legal protection" and recent police raids on LGBT groups.
2011 European Parliament resolution
On 12 May 2011, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning Azerbaijani "human rights violations" and "oppression of opposition forces". The resolution mentioned concern for Eynulla Fatullayev, Jabbar Savalan, and other prisoners by name, as well as general concern for the "increasing number of incidents of harassment, attacks and violence against civil society and social network activists and journalists in Azerbaijan". Nevertheless, the European Parliament appreciated the release of two bloggers and the creation of the new subcommittees of the EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Committee in the areas of justice, human rights and democracy, and delivered its thanks to Azerbaijan for the contributions to the Eastern Partnership.
2017 European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center reports
On 6 March 2017, ESISC (European strategic intelligence and security center) published a scandalous report called “The Armenian Connection” where it veraciously attacked human rights NGOs and research organisations criticising human rights violations and corruption in Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Russia.
ESISC in that report asserted that "Caviar diplomacy" report elaborated by ESI aimed to create climate of suspicion based on slander to form a network of MPs that would engage in a political war against Azerbaijan. In the Second Chapter of the report called "The Armenian Conection: «Mr X», Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights" that was published on 18 April 2017 ESISC asserted that the network composed of European PMs, Armenian officials and some NGOs: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, "Human Rights House Foundation", "Open Dialog, European Stability Initiative, and Helsinki Committee for Human Rights , was financed by the Soros Foundation. According to ESISC the key figure of the network since 2012 has been Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe and the network has served to the interests of George Soros and the Republic of Armenia.
"The report is written in the worst traditions of authoritarian propaganda, makes absurd claims, and is clearly aimed at deflecting the wave of criticism against cover-up of unethical lobbying and corruption in PACE and demands for change in the Assembly", said Freedom Files Analytical Centre.
According Robert Coalson (Radio Free Europe), ESISC is a part of Baku's lobbying efforts to extend to the use of front think tanks to shift public opinion.
European Stability Initiative said that "ESISC report is full of lies (such as claiming that German PACE member Strasser holds pro-Armenian views and citing as evidence that he went to Yerevan in 2015 to commemorate the Armenian genocide, when Strasser has never in his life been to independent Armenia)".
2017 Report of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published its mission report to Azerbaijan in Agust 2017. At the invitation of the Government, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Azerbaijan from 16 to 25 May 2016.
Situation in Nakhchivan
Human rights are considered exceptionally poor in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, dubbed "Azerbaijan's North Korea" by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in 2007. An autonomous republic under the governorship of Vasif Talibov, concerns have been raised regarding police brutality, impunity, extensive limitations on civil liberties, and corruption.
Nakhchivan has been described as a "laboratory of repression" in which repressive methods are tested and are then applied on a large scale in the rest of Azerbaijan.
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During the year there were at least two reports of politically motivated kidnappings. On March 6 unknown assailants kidnapped opposition newspaper journalist Fikret Huseynli and on September 30 the father of Eynulla Fatullayev, founder of Azerbaijan's most widely read weekly newsmagazine.
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His domestic policies... particularly on the 2009 imprisonment of bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade... increasingly authoritarian and hostile to diversity of political views.
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Opposition leaders… abided by these restrictions when they organized peaceful protests outside of Baku shortly after the November 2005 elections, which drew 20,000 and later 30,000 people. However, participants in authorized demonstrations also suffered intimidation and, on occasion, beatings and detention, as on November 26, 2005, when Lala Shovket and Ali Karimli called on citizens at an approved time period. This demonstration was brutally repressed by the police, and numerous demonstrators were injured.
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While a few Azerbaijani clans are getting richer and richer, thanks to all the dollars pouring into the country, the rest of the population is barely scraping by. Over 40 percent of the country's inhabitants are living in poverty; the average monthly income is just €24. As Lala Shevkat, the leader of the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, says: 'Oil is our tragedy.'
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Azerbaijan has made progress in preventing corruption in several sectors, such as public services delivery, traffic police and public education. Reforms have started in customs and business licencing. However, serious and complex corruption challenges have yet to be tackled. Addressing the corruption-prone areas requires stronger political will, efforts and healthy environment for broad stakeholder participation in the fight against corruption.
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Awareness of various forms of corruption and public trust towards selected institutions increased in Azerbaijan since the previous monitoring. ACD in cooperation with the Commission on Combating Corruption (CCC) has engaged in awareness raising activities. Azerbaijan is encouraged to use systematic and targeted approach to anti-corruption awareness, plan measures for the corruption-prone sectors, adapt the activities to various target groups and allocate budget for implementation of the measures foreseen by the Action Plan.
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