Center for National and International Studies
“We will be able to save our country from this repressive and corrupt administration when we all demand to change the reactionary laws on Media and Political Parties, as well as the release of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and all political prisoners…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Liberties
Activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev has been on hunger strike for 28 days in protest against his illegal imprisonment. His lawyer says that the activist’s health is in real danger and that he could fall into a coma at any moment.
Chairperson of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli called for the government to immediately release Hajiyev before it is too late. Karimli also appealed to the public to be more active in raising their voice against repression. “The regime makes maximum use of the silence of our people and rages full-blown war against the democratic forces. However, they do not understand that one day it will hit them back with a boomerang effect. Then regret won’t change anything.”
“Azerbaijan’s authorities should release activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and give him full access to medical care”, tweeted Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. In a statement shared by the Commissioner for Human Rights Azerbaijani authorities were criticized for failing to conduct an effective investigation of the crimes committed against the activist. “The arrest and ongoing detention of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a prominent civil society activist in Azerbaijan, provides yet another illustration of the government’s intolerance towards independent civic activism in the country. Like many other activists, human rights defenders, and journalists, Mr Hajiyev has been the target of reprisals and intimidation over many years, including criminal prosecution, threats, and physical violence. Last year alone, he was abducted and severely ill-treated and to date, Azerbaijani authorities have failed to conduct an effective investigation and punish the perpetrators of that crime. Against this background, the continued detention of Mr Hajiyev and repeated refusals to change it into a restraint measure is unjustified and, in any case, disproportionate to the charges brought against him. I am particularly worried at reports that he does not receive adequate medical care in the context of his rapidly deteriorating health in detention. I call on the authorities of Azerbaijan to immediately release Mr Hajiyev from custody and give him full access to the medical care he needs as a matter of urgency.” Mijatovic also mentioned the cases of lawyer Elchin Sadykov and journalist Avaz Zeynalli, calling the government to immediately stop intimidating civil society members. “Only last September, I highlighted the case of human rights lawyer Elchin Sadykov and journalist Avaz Zeynalli – prosecuted on grounds that lack credibility and reiterated once again the immediate need to stop intimidating civil society actors in Azerbaijan. The government of Azerbaijan should reverse course and work towards creating a safe and enabling environment for their activities based on genuine dialogue and cooperation.”
At least four members of APFP have been detained in the last ten days. According to the Party, the members were arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to 30 days imprisonment. On January 20, Anar Arkivan and Rovshan Seferov were arrested for protesting the illegal behavior of law enforcement agencies while visiting the Alley of Martyrs. Elnur Hasan was arrested for his critical speech in protest against the power cut. After the trial of political activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Orkhan Bakhish was arrested for his criticism of the authorities.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published the democracy index for 2022. According to the report, “despite expectations of a rebound after the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions, the score was almost unchanged, at 5.29 (on a 0-10 scale), compared with 5.28 in 2021 and the positive effect of the restoration of individual freedoms was canceled out by negative developments globally.” Azerbaijan ranks 134th in the democracy index as a country under “authoritarian” regime with a score of 2.87. As for the neighboring countries, Armenia is in 82nd place with 5.63 points, Georgia is in 90th place with 5.20 points in the categories of countries with “hybrid regime”. While there is “a full democracy” in Eastern Europe region, 16 countries are described as “flawed democracies”, four “hybrid regimes” (Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine), and eight “authoritarian regimes” (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, and all members of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Central Asia).
Azerbaijan, last year alone, adopted two controversial laws, Law on Media and Law on Political Parties, despite the criticism of local and international lawmakers. Moreover, the number of political prisoners increased, and many activists and journalists were repressed by the regime, which experts believe are the main reasons for the country’s image as an authoritarian regime.
Commenting on the democracy index, opposition leader Ali Karimli said that as long as Ilham Aliyev is in power, there won’t be any positive change for democracy in Azerbaijan. Karimli’s Facebook post: “If Ilham Aliyev remains in power, our democracy index will worsen even more. The reactionary “laws on Media” and “on Political Parties” adopted last year will be implemented this year. The brutality of the regime towards Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and the administrative detention of ten opposition activists for 30 days in the last couple of weeks shows that if our people do not raise their voices, the policy of repression and international isolation of the country will continue. The free-thinking journalists of Azerbaijan have launched an online campaign, #icazelimediaistamirik (we don’t want controlled media) campaign to prevent the new reactionary “law on Media” from destroying free journalism. We should all support this campaign. We will be able to save our country from this repressive and corrupt administration when we all demand to change the reactionary laws on Media and Political Parties, as well as the release of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and all political prisoners.”
February 7, 2023