Center for National and International Studies
“Encouraged by additional oil revenues, the family rule that has absolute control over oil and gas revenues has chosen the path of not just stifling independent voices but completely silencing them…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Liberties
On December 9, a day before International Human Rights Day, prominent political activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was arrested and sentenced to 50 days in administrative detention. Hajiyev, who has been known for his criticism of the officials, mainly the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is facing multiple charges, including hooliganism. According to his lawyer, he was taken to the Khatai District Court to be remanded in custody during the investigation period. If found guilty, Hajiyev may be sentenced to three years behind bars. Hajiyev made complaints to the police a while ago, demanding journalist Ulviyya Alovlu be brought to criminal responsibility for slander.
The Baku City Police Department has been investigating this case since then, although Hajiyev repeatedly complained that the police did not investigate the matter objectively. As an active user of social media, Hajiyev, used his social media platforms to criticize the government mainly the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In April 2022, he was kidnapped by a group of people in the center of Baku and subjected to violence. Although a criminal case has been initiated, the perpetrators have not been found yet. Members of the opposition and human rights organizations have expressed their condemnation demanding Hajiyev’s immediate release. In Baku, human rights defenders and media representatives wanted to hold a press conference in Hajiyev’s office, but the police intervened and sealed the office.
Ali Karimli, chairperson of the opposition Popular Front Party said that the arrest is undoubtedly politically motivated. “Repression against Bakhtiyar bey has been consistent for a long time. It was not enough that he was kidnapped and tortured, and subjected to physical violence at the police station. Now they have started a fictitious criminal case to silence Bakhtiyar Bey. We should all demand freedom for Bakhtiyar Bey. We should protest against the politics of suppressing politicians, activists, and youth in Azerbaijan and silencing society by force and repression.”
Exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli said that Hajiyev’s arrest was ordered by president Aliyev and would cause a serious international reaction. “Undoubtedly, Ilham Aliyev ordered the arrest of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev. Even his lawyer Agil Lahij was not allowed into the court building. Bakhtiyar was deprived of the right to defense. If the lawlessness is at this level, there is no doubt that the order comes from Ilham. Ilham, who is preparing for the period after Putin, decided to neutralize everyone. This arrest will cause a very serious international reaction. Bakhtiyar is an influential activist who has a reputation in the European Union, the Council of Europe, and other international organizations. I have no doubt that very serious decisions about Azerbaijan will be made in the Council of Europe and the EU. Bakhtiyar has been repeatedly subjected to violence by the authorities in the last two years. He was kidnapped, beaten, and humiliated.”
The chairperson of the Muslim Union Movement, theologian Tale Bagirzade, stopped the hunger strike on its 16th day due to health problems. Bagirzade told his family that his health problems have increased in recent days, but he will continue to shed light on the problems in prisons, especially insults and humiliating behavior against the prisoners. The theologian expressed his gratitude to the foreign and domestic friends who supported him. Bagirzade started a hunger strike protesting against the abusive treatment and threats he was subjected to in prison. Recently, at least four members of the Movement were arrested on various trumped-up charges.
Gultakin Hajibeyli former member of the parliament, faces criminal charges for her comment on a Facebook post. Member of the opposition NCDF Hajibeyli who was detained at the airport upon her arrival from Brussels, said that the authorities are planning to arrest her on trumped charges. Hajibeyli’s Facebook post addressed the government: “you can hit me by a car on the street, but you don’t. You can shoot me in front of my house, but you don’t. You could have even arrested me a long time ago if you wanted, but you didn’t. All this stems from your extreme humanism, and we have not forgotten it for a moment. Why should I be afraid of you after you committed the most dishonorable acts against me – sued me with the help of human traffickers and separatist Turkophobes, took away my job and my property, and turned my life into hell?! The Azerbaijani authorities are behind the criminal case opened against me. Without the personal consent of Ilham Aliyev, no one can open a criminal case against me.”
Member of NCDF Tofig Yagublu said that Gultekin Hajibeyli’s supporters were not allowed to enter the courtroom, and only after a strong objection, only five people, including the representative of the US Embassy, were able to enter.
Azadliq newspaper reports that after the trial of Gultekin Hajibeyli ended in the Nasimi District Court, Tofig Mammadov, a member of the APFP, of Talysh ethnic background, shouted the slogan “Talysh people are awake and support Gultekin”. A person named Irada Malikova approached Mammadov and called him a traitor, saying that this slogan would cost him dearly. Later, Tofig Mammadov received death threats, mostly from numbers belonging to Russian mobile operators. They told him that he would not survive the morning “for insulting the Talysh people”. Tofig Mammadov’s father, Oruj Mammadov, who lives in Astara, also received calls with similar content. Moreover, Tik Tok user Alihuseyn Agayev said that he was being persecuted because he made a speech in defense of Gultekin Hajibeyli on TikTok. According to Agayev, he was taken to the Police Station and was punished with an administrative penalty.
Commenting on the recent arrests, the chairperson of Azerbaijan Democracy and Welfare Party Gubad Ibadoghlu said that as the oil and gas revenues increase, the Azerbaijani government becomes more repressive. “I believe that the main reason for all these is related to the fact that the Azerbaijani authorities received 31.8 billion dollars of oil and gas revenues in the first ten months of this year, which is unprecedented in its history. The peak until now was 19.9 billion dollars in 2011. By the end of the year, the country’s income from natural resources will exceed 35 billion dollars. Encouraged by additional oil revenue, the family rule that has absolute control over oil and gas revenues has chosen the path of not just stifling independent voices but completely silencing them. The authorities believe that the growth of capital increases its authoritarian power. Therefore, as the oil and gas revenues increase, the environment for political and civil activity in Azerbaijan becomes narrower. The oil and gas era will end soon, and prices will continue to fall next year. Therefore, what happens can be understood as the last bullets of the current government.”
Member of APFP Fuad Gahramanli argued that the current wave of repression could be considered as preparation for the post-Putin era. “The authorities are preparing for the post-Putin era. Therefore, they are trying to strike a possible blow against the democratic forces, seeing that the West is busy with the Ukrainian war and Putin‘s resistance as an opportunity. They know that soon they will not be able to use repressive methods. Hastily adopting the draft law on political parties and, on the other hand, filing a criminal case against Gultekin Hajibeyli and Bakhtiyar Hajiyev is part of this preparatory process.”
“Defence Line”, a group of human rights defenders, called on the local community, human rights defenders, representatives of civil society, heads of political organizations, international organizations specializing in human rights, embassies of Western and European countries in Baku, to take immediate, effective and practical measures to restore the activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev’s right to freedom.
Governance and Corruption
On the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day and on the eve of International Human Rights Day, the US Department of State decided to take actions against the officials of foreign governments who have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights. According to the press release of the State Department, using the Global Magnitsky Act, and four additional country-focused Executive Orders, all property and interests in property of those individuals or entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of the U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Sanctions also include that those individuals and their immediate family members are generally ineligible for entry into the United States. Kerim Heydar Alimardanov, an official in the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs, known as the “Bandotdel”, is among those foreign officials who were sanctioned. Alimardanov is included in the list of sanctioned individuals for his involvement in a gross violation of human rights, namely torture of detainees in 2015 and 2016. Colonel Alimardanov, who was awarded the “For Bravery” medal by president Ilham Aliyev, has long been criticized by human rights defenders for torturing political prisoners arrested in 2015-2016.
The Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan shared a statement against the new law “On Political Parties”. According to the Party, the Azerbaijani authorities want to adopt the new law in order to remove the multi-party political system and real political alternative forces from participating in political life by creating legal barriers. The statement of the Party reads: “The new draft law, which has been hastily passed the second reading in the Milli Majlis, will enable the authorities to further restrict the activities of political parties, to control them more strictly, to increase the pressure on the members of the opposition parties and their families, to cancel the registration of the parties when they like and prevent the formation of new parties. The presented draft law has reactionary content and will serve to limit the activities of political parties, especially real opposition political parties, and to de-facto eliminate political pluralism. Taking this into account, the PFP urges authorities not to adopt this reactionary law “On Political Parties”, and send the bill to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for examination and to take into account the recommendations of the Venice Commission. The PFP urges the international community not to remain a bystander in the creation of legal grounds for the removal of the real opposition in Azerbaijan. PFP calls on the people of Azerbaijan to protest against the government’s desire to adopt this anti-democratic and political pluralism law.”
December 13, 2022