Azer­bai­jan’s Aliyev keeps abus­ing rights

Kyiv Post - - National - BY KYIV POST

It’s a lit­tle coun­try with big hu­man rights prob­lems that Western lead­ers are prone to ig­nore for the sake of oil.

Since 1993, the for­mer Soviet re­pub­lic of Azer­bai­jan, with 10 mil­lion peo­ple on the Caspian Sea, has been the fief­dom of the Aliyev fam­ily — first the fa­ther Hey­dar, the for­mer Soviet KGB of­fi­cer, and now the son, Il­ham, who took over upon the fa­ther’s death in 2003.

It’s hard to say how pop­u­lar Aliyev is be­cause elec­tions are not free or fair.

It’s hard to say how many peo­ple op­pose Aliyev be­cause crit­ics are of­ten thrown in jail or driven into ex­ile.

And it’s hard to speak one’s mind — even in­sult­ing the pres­i­dent is against the law.

The cult of per­son­al­ity sur­round­ing Hey­dar Aliyev — known as Hey­darism — re­mains so ex­ten­sive that air­ports, oil re­finer­ies, sta­di­ums and build­ings are named af­ter him. Even streets and pub­lic squares in other na­tions carry his name, such as a square in Ukraine.

His son, Il­ham, has ruled with an iron fist as well, kicking out for­eign non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, ar­rest­ing dis­senters and si­lenc­ing jour­nal­ists.

Ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s lat­est an­nual re­port, some po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers have been re­leased but at least 14 re­main in pri­son, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists, youth ac­tivists, politi­cians and re­li­gious ac­tivists.

A wave of crack­downs took place in the sum­mer of 2014, in­clud­ing the ar­rests of hu­man rights ac­tivists Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Ra­sul Ja­farov and In­tiqam Aliyev.

Yunus was one of the most high pro­file crit­ics of the Azer­bai­jani gov­ern­ment. She was ar­rested a few days af­ter calling for a boycott of the Baku Euro­pean Games, but re­leased in 2016.

In­tiqam Aliyev and Ja­farov were charged with tax eva­sion and il­le­gal en­trepreneur­ship. Ra­sul Ja­farov started to be fol­lowed by Azer­bai­jani gov­ern­ment in 2012, af­ter or­ga­niz­ing in the Sing for Democ­racy cam­paign dur­ing the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test hosted by Baku.

Aliyev par­doned some of the po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing Ja­farov in 2016. How­ever, Intigam Aliyev re­mains in pri­son.

Also, in May 2016, po­lice ar­rested youth ac­tivists Giyas Ibrahi­mov and Bayram Mam­madov for spray­ing graf­fiti on a mon­u­ment to for­mer Pres­i­dent Hey­dar Aliyev. They were also charged with drug pos­ses­sion and sen­tenced to up to 10 years in jail

Ja­farov told the Kyiv Post that the gov­ern­ment crack­down aims to pre­vent po­lit­i­cal change and pre­serve vested eco­nomic in­ter­ests.

“The Azer­bai­jani gov­ern­ment tries to keep its power be­cause of the eco­nomic in­ter­ests. For this rea­son, they have ag­gres­sion against youth ac­tivists, jour­nal­ists and hu­man rights de­fend­ers. The au­thor­i­ties con­sider them as ene­mies. If some­one crit­i­cizes pres­i­dent, they de­cide to pun­ish this per­son. Be­cause, they are not tol­er­ant. They show their power by pun­ish­ing some­one so no one can beat them.”

No free speech

Jour­nal­ists, op­po­si­tion news­pa­pers and on­line web­sites have been pres­sured by the Azer­bai­jani gov­ern­ment be­cause of their work.

Free­dom House clas­si­fies the me­dia in Azer­bai­jan as “not free” and Re­porters with­out Bor­ders ranked the coun­try 162 out of 180 coun­tries in its an­nual World Press Free­dom In­dex for 2017.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in Cau­casian Knot, an on­line news site, 199 peo­ple re­main po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers — in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists, youth ac­tivists, politi­cians and re­li­gious ac­tivists.

On May 29, Azer­bai­jani in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Afghan Muk­tharli, 43, who had been liv­ing in ex­ile in Ge­or­gia since 2015, dis­ap­peared from the streets of Ge­or­gia’s cap­i­tal, Tbil­isi, and reap­peared two days later in a Baku pri­son.

Mukhtarli worked for sev­eral in­de­pen­dent and op­po­si­tion me­dia out­lets like In­sti­tute for War and Peace Re­port­ing and Mey­dan TV. He in­ves­ti­gated sto­ries about cor­rup­tion in Azer­bai­jan and busi­ness net­works owned by the fam­ily of Azer­bai­jani Pres­i­dent Il­ham Aliyev and his busi­ness net­works in Ge­or­gia.

In 2015, Azer­bai­jani jour­nal­ist Rasim Aliyev was killed af­ter crit­i­ciz­ing foot­baller on his Face­book ac­count.

In 2014, an Azer­bai­jani re­porter Khadija Is­may­ilova was ar­rested for em­bez­zle­ment and tax eva­sion. She had fo­cused on cor­rup­tion and off­shore bank ac­counts linked to Aliyev. She was re­leased in 2016.

In 2013, Il­gar Mam­madov, the leader of REAL, an op­po­si­tion group was ar­rested and sen­tenced to seven years in pri­son. He is still in pri­son.

Sey­mur Kaz­i­mov, an in­de­pen­dent Azer­bai­jani jour­nal­ist, says the gov­ern­ment is not re­spon­sive to crit­i­cism from in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions. To the con­trary, they at­tack jour­nal­ists even more af­ter such damn­ing re­ports.

“If jour­nal­ists are in pri­son, it can­not be hidden. We know it clearly that, un­der what kind of cir­cum­stances we are work­ing in. At least, gov­ern­ment can read in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions’ re­ports and take into con­sid­er­a­tion them that, why in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions are crit­i­ciz­ing them,” Kaz­i­mov said. “Why are they ar­rest­ing jour­nal­ists?”

Ja­sur Mam­madov Sumerinli, a jour­nal­ist who worked as a mil­i­tary in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter in Azer­bai­jan, moved to Ger­many in 2014 be­cause of his in­ves­ti­ga­tions about the mys­te­ri­ous deaths of sol­diers, cor­rup­tion and bribery cases in the Azer­bai­jani army.

“In Azer­bai­jan, there are a few jour­nal­ists who work in­de­pen­dently, but gov­ern­ment does not al­low them to act freely. If we look at the Azer­bai­jani me­dia to­day, we will see a group of peo­ple who are far from in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­is­tic rules. Those jour­nal­ists are busy with flut­ter­ing the gov­ern­ment, es­pe­cially the pres­i­dent. In­deed, it is a very shame­ful sit­u­a­tion.”

No op­po­si­tion me­dia

On May 12, crit­i­cal news sites such as Ra­dio Lib­erty, Mey­dan TV, Azadlig news­pa­per, The Azer­bai­jani Time and Tu­ran TV chan­nel were banned by a court rul­ing. The court claimed that th­ese me­dia out­lets are threat­en­ing the coun­try’s se­cu­rity.

Baku-based me­dia ex­pert Alas­gar Mam­madli told the KyivPost that block­ing web­sites is part of cur­tail­ing free speech on the in­ter­net, yet peo­ple usu­ally find ways around the pro­hi­bi­tions.

“The Azer­bai­jani gov­ern­ment thinks that block­ing op­po­si­tion and in­de­pen­dent web­sites is an al­ter­na­tive way. How­ever, it is not true be­cause, many peo­ple are us­ing so­cial net­works such as Face­book, Twitter, and In­sta­gram. It is im­pos­si­ble to block all ways with­out ban­ning the whole in­ter­net sys­tem in­side the coun­try. If they block the net­work in Azer­bai­jan, they can pre­vent all of th­ese.”

Speak­ing out

In­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Re­porters With­out Bor­ders, Free­dom House con­tinue to call at­ten­tion to hu­man rights abuses and de­mand free­dom for po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.

For in­stance, on June 22, Re­porters With­out Bor­ders called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of at least 15 im­pris­oned blog­gers, me­dia work­ers and in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists who have re­cently been de­tained.

Ja­farov, the hu­man rights ac­tivist, said Euro­pean coun­tries such as France, Italy and Ger­many are not do­ing enough to pres­sure Aliyev on hu­man rights. “Th­ese coun­tries have enough power. How­ever, they don’t do enough work on hu­man rights is­sues in Azer­bai­jan,” Ja­farov said.

In 2016, Euro­pean Court of Hu­man rights re­ceived 186 com­plaints con­cern­ing Azer­bai­jan, but 136 ap­pli­ca­tions were de­clared in­ad­mis­si­ble.

(AFP)

Azer­bai­jan’s po­lice de­tain an op­po­si­tion ac­tivist dur­ing a rally against the de­val­u­a­tion of the na­tional cur­rency, manat, in the cap­i­tal city Baku on Feb. 28, 2015.

Azer­bai­jan Pres­i­dent Il­ham Aliyev

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