Center for National and International Studies



“Whenever corruption or the laundering of illicit funds is investigated worldwide, the corrupt activities of the Azerbaijani government and ruling family come to light…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

The National Council of Democratic Forces submitted a request to the Baku City Executive Authority to organize a rally on May 19. Previously, the executive authority had denied the National Council’s requests for rallies on April 21 and May 5. According to opposition leader  Ali Karimli‘s statement to Meydan TV, the primary aim of the National Council’s rally requests is to advocate for conditions conducive to free elections. Karimli emphasized that if the current circumstances persist, parliamentary elections will be manipulated similarly to past elections. Karimli: “Of course, in that case, the opposition will not participate in the elections, and the next illegitimate parliament will be formed. This puts a great responsibility on the Azerbaijani government. The government must decide to create conditions for at least semi-free elections. Political prisoners must be released, the freedom of assembly must be ensured, and the representation of the opposition must be allowed for the restructuring of election commissions. If the minimum conditions I have set are provided, then it is possible to hold semi-free elections, and then the opposition will participate.” According to him, it is not possible for the current government to conduct elections completely freely and transparently: “Nevertheless, we do not consider it possible that the current government will conduct completely transparent elections. But if there are minimal opportunities, then some competition can be discussed. That is why we call on the government to think twice before saying ‘no’ to the May 19 rally. Because saying ‘no’ to rallies until the end is to resolve the demand for parliamentary elections in advance. Thus, the government will conduct the expected parliamentary elections in conditions of mass fraud, there will be no real opposition in the forming legislative body, and the mandate of the new parliament will not be recognized in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.”

Journalist Nigar Mubariz has been prevented from leaving the country. She was stopped at the airport while attempting to travel to the United States on May 3rd. Border officials informed her that she was not allowed to leave the country and sent her back. Nigar Mubariz said that she needed to travel to the USA for educational purposes. In the last six months, along with the detention of journalists and members of civil society in Azerbaijan, numerous activists and media representatives have been prohibited from leaving the country. This includes young activists Elgiz Gahraman, Murad Rustambayli, as well as staff from the Social Rights Center, Ayshen Muradova, Gadir Gadirli, and others. The majority of those barred from leaving the country reportedly face restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In Nakhchivan, close to 100 employees of the Jahan Shopping Center have shuttered their shops and staged a protest. The traders are voicing grievances over the rise in rental fees. They argue that the rent has been escalating unreasonably. Following the recent hike, traders were already paying 350 manats per month to the shopping center, covering taxes and social payments. However, a month ago, they were asked to pay an additional 110 manats for taxes and social payments on top of the existing 350 manats. This additional expense exceeded the traders’ budgets and sparked discontent.

Lawyer Agil Layij met with jailed media expert Alasgar Mammadli. Layij wrote about the meeting on social media: “Alasgar bey Memmedli was suddenly transferred to the Penitentiary Service medical institution. There, he underwent certain examinations, but according to what he himself said, he was subjected to a very outdated examination with old technology. They told him he would stay there longer. After he already settled in his place, approximately 8 hours later, he was immediately returned to the Isolation Ward. The reasons for this are still unknown to us. According to what Alasgar bey said, the medical facility is no different from a dumping ground, with unsanitary conditions prevailing. Even healthy people would become ill there. Despite our requests, the results of Alasgar bey’s recent examination have not yet been presented to us…”

The investigation into the Abzas Media case continues with additional interrogations. Journalist Shamistan Haziyev has been called in for questioning by the Baku City Main Police Department. As per Abzas Media, the investigator, through the journalist’s lawyer Nazim Huseynov, summoned Haziyev to be questioned as a witness. He was invited to be questioned regarding the “Abzas Media case” on May 4th. Haziyev had previously been questioned in connection with this case in December 2023. Last year, on November 20th, the director of “Abzas Media” Ulvi Hasanli, his deputy Mahammad Kekalov, on November 21st, the chief editor of the site Sevinj Vagifgizi, on November 30th, the reporter Nargiz Absalamova, on December 13th, the investigative journalist Hafiz Babali, and on January 13th, the journalist Elnara Gasimova were detained. Subsequently, the head of the “meclis.info” platform Imran Aliyev and the head of the Center for Monitoring Elections and Teaching Democracy Anar Mammadli were also arrested. They are charged under Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code (smuggling, committed by a group of people previously agreed upon), and pre-trial detention measures have been taken against them. If the court finds the prosecution’s charges substantial during the investigation, journalists face up to 8 years in prison. Since February 24th, the detention period of all journalists arrested in the “Abzas Media case” has been extended for another 3 months. The detained journalists refute the charges, asserting that their arrests are politically motivated and linked to their professional activities.

Another deported asylum seeker has been apprehended on suspicion of drug trafficking. Political activist Famil Khalilov’s residence was raided by police. According to Khalilov’s wife, nearly 50 individuals in civilian attire conducted the raid, resulting in Famil’s arrest. The authorities claimed Famil was involved in narcotics sales and conducted a search of the premises. Additionally, underage children present in the house were taken into police custody and kept there until midnight. Famil Khalilov, who is a disabled person due to paralysis in both arms, had been vocal in his criticism of the government on social media. Khalilov, together with his family, was deported from Sweden last year. Even after his deportation, he continued to express dissent. Famil Khalilov is the sixth former asylum seeker deported from Europe to be arrested on suspicion of drug-related offenses. Prior to him, individuals such as Samir Ashurov, Muttalim Oruj, Malik Rzayev, Punhan Karimli, Emin Malikov (who suffers from mental illness), Jafer Mirzayev (deported from Germany), and journalist Rashad Ramazanov (returning to Azerbaijan from Georgia) have also faced similar charges.

Afgan Mukhtarli, an exiled journalist, expressed his concerns regarding the case of Khalilov, stating that unfortunately, EU countries not only repatriate political asylum seekers but also show little concern for their well-being after deportation to Azerbaijan. Mukhtarli highlighted the failure of President Aliyev to adhere to the readmission agreement signed with the European Union. According to this agreement, returnees should not face persecution in their home country. Mukhtarli lamented the lack of interest from the European Union in the fate of those deported under the readmission agreement. He personally reached out to the EU president on this matter, providing detailed information about former migrants arrested in Baku. While he did receive a written response to his letter a few days ago, he noted with disappointment the absence of information about those deported to Azerbaijan and subsequently arrested under the readmission agreement. “Despite the challenges faced by Civil Society in Azerbaijan and the limited opportunities for NGOs to operate, those who work in this field should provide information about all individuals affected”, Mukhtarli stressed. He called on the EU representation in Azerbaijan to address this issue conscientiously.

Vidadi Mirkamal, a member of the Coordination Center of the National Council, has revealed that his family is facing significant pressure from the authorities. Mirkamal, who submitted the rally application, believes that this pressure reflects the government’s deep concern about rallies. Mirkamal has commented on the matter. “Today, at 7:30 PM, the local police chief visited my registered address seeking me. Upon being informed that I was not there, the chief started asking irrelevant questions such as my political affiliation and my sons’ workplaces. They were instructed to speak directly with me as we couldn’t provide answers to these queries. I had a phone conversation with the police chief, questioning the relevance of my party membership and the need for the police to know about my sons’ employment. I suggested they obtain the information from official channels. The police major stated that his superiors tasked him with gathering this information. I attempted to educate the civilized police major, citing my extensive experience teaching law for 25 years and my affiliations with legal bodies, about the unconstitutional and illegal nature of their actions. He acknowledged my concerns, and our conversation concluded. An hour later, the police contacted my son, requesting a meeting and details about his workplace. My son sought clarification on the purpose of the meeting, and upon learning it was at the authorities’ behest, he agreed to meet upon receiving an official summons. Both my sons are lawyers, and they face restrictions due to my political stance. So, why is our esteemed police force so agitated? What’s happening? It’s worth noting that despite appeals for a rally at Baku State University organized by the National Council, both requests have been denied. I signed the rally application on behalf of the National Council… Do you see, my dear people… there’s no rally scheduled yet… no approval granted… yet the government is deeply concerned.”

The appeal complaint regarding the detention of Anar Mammadli, the head of the Center for Monitoring Elections and Democracy Education, who was arrested on May 6th, has been considered. Lawyer Javad Javadov stated that the Baku Court of Appeal has upheld the detention of Anar Mammadli. “The complaint regarding the modification of the pre-trial detention period of 3 months and 28 days, issued by the Khatai District Court, was not granted by the Baku Court of Appeal. The decision of the first instance court remains in force,” the lawyer said. Anar Mammadli, a prominent human rights lawyer and public figure was arrested on April 29th. Police conducted searches at Mammadli‘s residence and parental home. Documents, computers, and equipment belonging to him were confiscated.

Azerbaijan has experienced a significant drop in the Press Freedom Index, falling from 151st to 164th place out of 180 countries. This decline is attributed to the severe repression by the Azerbaijani government over the past year. Reporters Without Borders, an international organization, recently published the latest Freedom of Speech index. Compared to last year’s ranking of 151st, Azerbaijan now finds itself at a much lower 164th position. Notably, among CIS countries, only Belarus and Turkmenistan rank lower than Azerbaijan. In contrast, neighboring countries Armenia ranks 43rd, and Georgia ranks 103rd.

US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mark Libby, met with a group of journalists on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, answering their questions: “I believe that any fair-minded person would perceive all of these accusations against the journalist as baseless. Most of these accusations are fabricated, and it seems to me that their purpose is to silence journalists. I would say that in the work we see, there is nothing non-transparent or obscure for the government, the Azerbaijani government knows this. What is their motivation to do this? Are they trying to send a signal to you or me? Again, I would ask you to inquire from them. Whether or not we feel targeted is another matter.” Moreover, ambassador reflected on his meeting with local journalists: “May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, recognizing the important work of independent media.  To commemorate this day, I met with talented Azerbaijani journalists committed to press freedom.  We continue to be deeply troubled by the arrests of Azerbaijani journalists and urge the Azerbaijani government to immediately release all individuals who are unjustly detained.” Ambassador Libby, tweeted on X.

During a meeting with journalists on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, Peter Michalko, the head of the European Union (EU) delegation in Baku, stated that the jailed journalists are a component of the dialogue with the government.”For the third year in a row, I have the opportunity to meet with journalists on World Press Freedom Day. Unfortunately, this time we cannot see some of the journalists who were with us last year because they have been imprisoned. By not forgetting these journalists, we hold this meeting,” he said. Michalko emphasized the necessity of independent media and free journalists for any society and recalled Azerbaijan’s responsibility in this area. Mentioning that the recent imprisonments of journalists have caused concern, Michalko stated that they remind the government agencies of this responsibility during their dialogues: “Azerbaijan has undertaken commitments, and as partners, we convey our expectations. As long as these issues remain relevant, the European Union will address them. Currently, these issues are particularly important, as Azerbaijan will host COP29, and the attention of the whole world will be focused on what happens here.”

Governance and Corruption

A US congressman, Henry Cuellar, and his wife Imelda are facing accusations of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Azerbaijan. According to a public indictment revealed on May 3, between December 2014 and November 2021, the couple allegedly accepted $600,000 in bribes from Azerbaijan and an undisclosed bank. The indictment accuses Cuellar, a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from Texas, and his wife of conspiracy and bribery, alleging that they accepted the bribes to influence legislation in favor of a Mexican bank and a state-controlled energy company in Azerbaijan. The federal indictment, unveiled in Houston, outlines a scheme in which Cuellar allegedly delivered a pro-Azerbaijan speech in the US House of Representatives. While the payments were ostensibly for consulting and advisory services, the indictment claims they were used to conceal the corrupt agreement between Cuellar and the Azerbaijani government. Federal investigators also allege that Imelda Cuellar submitted a falsified invoice to the Azerbaijan energy company’s Washington, DC office, claiming her work was completed when, in fact, little to no legitimate work was performed under the contract.

Chairperson of the National Council of Democratic Forces Jamil Hasanli commented on yet another corruption scandal involving Azerbaijan, saying that, unfortunately, it became a norm that any corruption case anywhere in the world somehow leads to Azerbaijani officials. Hasanli remarked, “Now, not only is Henri Cuellar facing potential removal from his position in the Capitol, but he also faces the prospect of imprisonment for his actions. However, in Azerbaijan, the perpetrator of such acts is likely to be awarded an order or medal, much like MP Javanshir Feyziyev. It’s truly disgraceful. These incidents demonstrate how they tarnish Azerbaijan’s reputation on the global stage. Now, whenever corruption or the laundering of illicit funds is investigated worldwide, the corrupt activities of the Azerbaijani government and ruling family come to light.”

May 7, 2024