Center for National and International Studies



“Leaving the Council of Europe would result in Azerbaijanis losing the opportunity to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights when their rights are not ensured in the country’s courts…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

The request for the house arrest of journalist Elnara Gasimova, arrested in connection with the “Abzas Media” case, was reviewed on February 2. Abzas Media reported that the request was not granted during the proceedings at the Baku Court of Appeal. The series of detentions began with the arrest of Ulvi Hasanli, the director of “Abzas Media,” and his deputy Muhammad Kekalov on November 20, followed by the editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifqizi on November 21, reporter Nargiz Absalamova on November 30, investigative journalist Hafiz Babaly on December 13, and finally, journalist Elnara Gasimova on January 13. They face charges under Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code (smuggling committed by a pre-arranged group), and they are currently held in custody. The journalists deny the allegations, attributing their arrests to corruption investigations published by Abzas Media.

A number of local and international organizations call for the release of journalists. On January 24, the credentials of the members of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) were not ratified. One of the reasons mentioned is the increasing political arrests in Azerbaijan. Speakers pointed to the detained employees of ‘Abzas Media‘ as an example in this regard.

The director of “Qanun” publishing, Shahbaz Khudoghlu, stated that local banks do not accept payments sent from abroad for publishing purposes. Khudoghlu said, “We receive some funding from abroad, all related to books – publishing, editing, printing, selling, etc. However, where the name of America is mentioned, banks do not accept the money, citing the Central Bank’s policy.” He added that this situation forces them to redirect their business to a third country. “Our account is in ATB Bank. Even for small amounts, they demand detailed explanations. Investigative agencies have also become involved. Recently, I was asked questions about funds coming from a neighboring country for book publishing,” Khudoghlu explained. “Questions such as, ‘How do you know this organization, how many years have you been working with them, how many times have you met, where have you met, why you specifically,’ etc. Of course, the bank investigation did not believe me, and the funds were returned. This shouldn’t have happened. The politics between the governments should not negatively impact small businesses like ours. Searching for agents everywhere, not allowing funds to come through American banks, and calling it American money causing harm to small organizations like us is not right.”

Member of the Popular Front Party (AXCP) Sabirabad branch, Adil Baba, and the head of the AXCP Terter regional branch, Orxan Elekberzade, were detained by the police without any apparent reason. While Adil Baba was released, there is still no information about the whereabouts of Orxan Elekberzade. AXCP considers these arrests as a response from the authorities to the crowded event organized by AXCP in Novxani, marking an escalation in political repression.

Vusal Shahbazov, a military veteran, revealed that he was not allowed to sell fruits. Overwhelmed by the challenging circumstances, Shahbazov tried to harm himself, but fortunately, it was possible to save him, and he is now in stable condition. Shahbazov has received training with the Special Purpose Forces.

Exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli reported that there is no news about Saadet Agarzayeva, the wife of Alamdar Buniyatov, an activist of the Muslim Union Movement and a political exile. Saadat Agarzayeva was scheduled to fly back to Berlin from Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport, however, she had been detained at the airport, with her documents and ticket confiscated. Subsequently, communication with her was severed. Pegasus Airlines confirmed that Agarzayeva did not board the plane from Baku. She had traveled to Baku to visit her cancer-stricken mother. While in Baku, she was interrogated by the State Security Service DTX regarding her husband Alamdar Bunyadov, with questions about political exiles in Germany. She provided explanations during the questioning. Currently, the whereabouts of Mrs. Agarzayeva remain unknown. Mukhtarli urged media representatives and activists to maintain focus on this matter.

Shahin Haji, an activist of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP), a well-known chess coach, and a political prisoner, has been isolated in solitary confinement (punishment cell) for expressing dissent against the forthcoming presidential elections. Shahin Haji, a repeated chess champion in both Azerbaijan and Turkey, has also coached students who achieved champion status in both countries. His involvement in AXCP’s Ganja branch activism led to a six-year imprisonment on drug-related charges. Earlier, Shahin, rejecting the allegations against him, donned a shirt in the prison facility bearing the message “I am innocent.” Nevertheless, prison authorities confiscated the shirt upon noticing the statement. In response, Shahin Haji protested the election by inscribing “election show” on another shirt he wore, resulting in his confinement in solitary.

Azerbaijan expelled Swiss OSCE election observer Nik Gugger. The Swiss politician underwent a three-hour detention at Baku airport before being deported, likely as a result of his outspoken stance against human rights violations in Azerbaijan. Gugger had arrived in Azerbaijan with official accreditation as an OSCE observer for the upcoming presidential elections, tasked with reporting on human rights abuses. The probable motive behind Azerbaijan’s actions appears to be Gugger’s public advocacy against violence towards Armenians and his specific criticism directed towards the country’s leadership. Gugger had expressed criticisms of Azerbaijan during the recent PACE meeting, during which the country was stripped of its voting rights in the assembly.

“Leaving the Council of Europe is not in Azerbaijan’s best interests,” remarked Isa Gambar, the head of the National Strategic Thinking Center, in his comments to Meydan TV. He acknowledged the challenge in determining the feasibility of Azerbaijan’s exit from the Council of Europe. “In today’s world, both expected and unexpected events are unfolding. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe is not conducive to its own interests. We firmly believe that Azerbaijan’s achievements also hinge on integration with the contemporary global landscape, implying the need to foster relations with key centers and leading nations that align with our interests,” he stated. According to Isa Gambar, rather than leaving the Council of Europe, it is crucial to contemplate joining the World Trade Organization and moving towards closer ties with the European Union in the foreseeable future. When discussing the potential repercussions that Azerbaijan might encounter if it opts to leave the Council of Europe, Isa Gambar stressed that such a move would result in Azerbaijanis losing the opportunity to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights when their rights are not ensured in the country’s courts.”

February 6, 2024