Center for National and International Studies
“Arresting Bakhtiyar Hajiyev is an attempt by the regime to further limit the political activism in the country and silence independent and critical voices…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Liberties
The lawyer of the activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev said that Hajiyev would start hunger strike if his appeal against his arrest will not be considered. Khatai district court of Baku city decided on the pre-trial detention of 1 month and 20 days for Hajiyev, which was considered illegal and groundless by human rights organizations. The Azerbaijani National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) shared a statement demanding the immediate release of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and the cancellation of the criminal case against Gultekin Hajibeyli. A well-known political activist Hajiyev was detained on December 9, 2022, while returning from a trip to Europe and is accused of hooliganism and contempt of court.
In its statement, the NCDF noted that “Hajiyev is being punished directly for his political activities, harsh criticism of the government (including its head Ilham Aliyev), and his arrest is politically motivated.” The National Council calls on the international organizations, democratic institutions, and governments that have moral and political obligations to the people of Azerbaijan to take a strong stance against the policy of Ilham Aliyev‘s government to completely destroy his real political opponents. The National Council believes that the international community has serious tools, including targeted sanctions, to influence authoritarian regimes like the one in Azerbaijan, which has trampled on the universal values of democracy, ignoring the international obligations it has undertaken regarding human rights and freedoms.
Director of Baku Research Institute Altay Goyushov also reacted to Hajiyev’s arrest, saying that the Azerbaijani public should be more active in supporting Hajiyev and demanding his release. “The attitude towards Bakhtiyar could have been different. There are many issues that I don’t agree with him, and these are the ideological issues. My last correspondence with him was about those differences. He shared his opinion with me, and I wrote that I didn’t agree with him. However, what really matters is that Bakhtiyar is now arrested. It is the duty of all of us to oppose evil. Because tomorrow we can all be victims of evil, and in fact, we are. By demanding his release, we defend ourselves. We must raise the demand for “Freedom to Bakhtiyar!” for our own interests. Let’s defend Bakhtiyar, who became a victim of evil today, so that we won’t become victims of that evil tomorrow.”
Chairperson of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli said that Hajiyev’s arrest is an attempt by the regime to silence independent voices. “Slandering and arresting Bakhtiyar Hajiyev is an attempt to further limit the political activism in the country and silence independent and critical voices. Arresting Bakhtiyar Bey is a message to the country’s youth who have received higher education abroad that they should not return to the country and they are not needed here. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev is one of the most prominent political figures in this country. The place of such persons should not be a prison but the parliament or government. The regime should correct its mistake against Bakhtiyar Bey today and release him by the decision of the Court of Appeal.”
Azadliq newspaper reports that Zaur Jariyev, a resident of Baku who was working at the Baku Transportation Agency, was fired because of his critical comment on social media. According to Jariyev he was hired as a specialist at the Baku Transport Agency (BTA) four years ago, but in July of this year, he was dismissed because he wrote a critical opinion on a Facebook post about e-government. Tural Mahmudov, the adviser to the BTA chairman, warned Jariyev that action would be taken against him, and only six days after, Jariyev’s employment contract was terminated. Zaur Cariyev, who is currently unemployed, says that his critical opinion is based on real evidence. According to the former employee, he encountered criminal offenses in the BTA when he was working there. Speaking to Azadliq, Jariyev said that the agency, which has been operating since 2015, does not have the required number of equipment installed in the areas. Due to the lack of control, the equipment in the area is broken and dismantled without anyone knowing. When a number is missing during a random check, the Police Stations are informed that it is allegedly stolen. Another issue touched upon by Jariyev is the tenders are not transparent, and there are serious irregularities. The complainant said that he was aware of bribery cases during recruitment and said that he was ready to give the facts he had to the law enforcement agencies. According to the Azadliq newspaper, although they have contacted the press secretary of Baku Transport Agency, Mais Agayev, regarding the issue, the human resources department did not provide any information.
The Norwegian Helsinki Commission launched an international campaign for the release of the political prisoner Niyamaddin Ahmadov, a member of the APFP. In October 2020, the Azerbaijani court sentenced Ahmadov, a member APFP, and a former bodyguard of the opposition leader Ali Karimli, to 13 years in jail for financing terrorism. Ahmadov is considered a political prisoner by local and international human rights defenders.
Governance and Corruption
Another employee from the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is accused of embezzling state funding. On December 13, the Sabail District Court of Baku considered the petition of the investigator regarding the chairman of the Urban Planning and Architecture Committee of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic Rustamov Hijran Yagub oghlu in the ongoing criminal case at the State Security Service. Rustamov is accused of abusing his official powers and embezzling 212,361,000 manats of state funds intended for the implementation of construction, and improvement works in the territory of the Autonomous Republic.
Tension increases on the Lachin corridor
From the morning of December 12, a group of non-governmental organization representatives, media representatives, and activists who are believed to be connected to the Azerbaijani authorities blocked the Shusha-Khankendi road, which is under the temporary control of Russian peacekeepers. Although the protesters wanted to move towards Khojaly and Khankendi, saying that they were protesting “the illegal exploitation of mineral deposits of Azerbaijan”, the peacekeeping contingent did not allow them. The protesters presented themselves to the local media as eco-activists, set up tents in the area, and demanded a meeting with the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces, Major General Andrey Volkov. The commander of the Russian Peacekeeping Contingent did not issue any statement regarding the protest.
Human rights defender Anar Mammadli told Meydan TV that among the third-world countries, Azerbaijan has one of the poorest records in human rights and environmental issues and, therefore, the protest would not be taken seriously. “The issue is not only about the environment. There are unfulfilled provisions of the ceasefire document signed by the three heads of state two years ago. Armenian military units should leave the area, transport routes should be opened for the passing of goods through the Lachin corridor, etc. Moreover, the IDPs must return to their homes. There are many issues that official Baku does not put in a coherent and comprehensive form at the international level.”
Member of the NCDF Tofig Yagublu said that the Azerbaijani government must demand the withdrawal of the Russian army from the region. “Of course, those protestors were sent there by the government under the name of “eco-activists“. Why doesn’t Ilham Aliyev, who is the head of this government, voice those demands to Putin, who is the head of those “peacekeepers”? Recently, Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, stated that official Baku highly appreciates the Kremlin’s role in the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Moreover, Russia approves the plan of political consultations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 2023-2024. Of course, Jeyhun Bayramov confirmed Ilham Aliyev‘s position. After all, the commander of the “peacekeepers”, Volkov is a military man who obeys orders and cannot solve anything on his own. The protests should be made against Russia. How come when the opposition held a demonstration in front of the Russian Embassy demanding that “the Russian army should be withdrawn from Karabakh!” the police did not allow them, but the protestors could go to Shusha with a special permit, and full support is given to those who hold a demonstration with a milder demand? Ecology is nonsense, the occupying Russian troops must be withdrawn from Karabakh, and the authorities must officially demand this.”
Activist Nigar Hezi also commented on the protests in Lachin, saying that similar protests should have been held in front of the president’s office. Her Facebook post: “In general, the activities of eco-activists to protect nature are commendable. However, today the eco-activists did not choose the right place for their protest. The action should have been in front of the presidential office. Today’s action raises many questions. Because Ilham Aliyev is the person who looted the country’s wealth. Ilham Aliyev is the one who created conditions for the looting of the wealth in Karabakh by Armenians. Who brought the Russian army into our country? Ilham Aliyev! Who still keeps the Russians there, who turns a blind eye to the looting of our wealth by the Armenians? Ilham Aliyev! Who did not allow our army, which was able to free our lands from occupation, to enter Khankendi? Ilham Aliyev! How is it that Ilham Aliyev, who practically prohibits the freedom of free assembly in all parts of the country, cannot tell Putin to “withdraw the army from Karabakh”, but sends eco-activists against the peacekeepers? Ilham Aliyev would not dare to protest against Putin’s “peacekeepers” without his permission. Although Ilham Aliyev is in power, it is impossible not to see how powerless he is in front of Putin.”
Many social media users criticized the protestors for wearing fur coats and killing a dove when voicing their demands, even though they call themselves eco-activists. Moreover, the fact that the protestors don’t have any prior experience in environmental causes and used very pro-governmental rhetoric has not escaped the attention of social media.
December 16, 2022