Center for National and International Studies



“Just because the president was granted such authority through a fraudulent referendum, it doesn’t imply that all elections should be conducted at the president’s discretion in an extraordinary fashion…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

Police forcibly detained journalists Aytaj Mammadli and Shahla Karim while they were engaged in their journalistic duties, gathering materials for their assignments. Journalists traveled to Lankaran to hear from locals and uncover the situation. Aytaj recounts, “They transported us in a car, and we were uncertain about our destination. Eventually, it became apparent that we were taken to the Housing Communal Administration, escorted by the police. Accusations were hurled at us, labeling us as spies and intelligence officers. We were questioned about our affiliations and the purpose of our visit, asking, ‘Who sent you here? On whose orders did you come?'” The journalists were specifically accused of inciting disobedience. Aytaj further describes the intrusive scrutiny: “They scrutinized my colleague Shahla Karimli’s notebook, thoroughly inspecting its contents. Allegations were made, stating that we were sent as provocateurs to incite the local population. Subsequently, they seized Shahla’s phone, reviewing all her communications. They also forcibly accessed my phone, examining my photos. The person in charge there issued threats and physically confronted me, inducing fear that he might resort to violence. It wasn’t until the incident gained public attention that they released us. Ultimately, we were instructed to obtain a permit document from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and submit it to the Executive Power.”

Ilhamiz Guliyev, a former police officer and advocate for human rights, has been apprehended and subjected to severe torture. Some time ago, Guliyev provided an anonymous interview to “AbzasMedia,” revealing how the police utilized drugs to target political activists. Despite altering his voice in the interview, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) expert managed to identify him, leading to subsequent persecution. Guliyev was taken into custody by the police and is being subjected to drug-related abuse. Prior to this incident, he had been arrested for 30 days in October. During his October detention, the arresting officer claimed it was due to his “social network” activities and made several unspecified allegations. As a former police officer, Ilhamiz had given an anonymous interview to Abzas Media a few days before his initial arrest. Choosing not to publicize the matter during the 30-day period, he was released in November, but authorities refused to return his phone, insisting he collect it from the Baku City Police Department. Shortly afterward, he discovered a travel ban on his passport. In recent days, he observed persistent surveillance in front of his residence. Suspecting repercussions for his interview, he voluntarily underwent a drug test to prove his innocence. However, on Tuesday, upon leaving his house, he was violently detained, resulting in a limp right leg, a red back, an injured lip, and the alleged planting of drugs in his pocket.

Shamseddin Hazi, another Abzas Media employee, has been called in for questioning at the Baku City Police Department for interrogation as part of the criminal case against Abzas Media. In the preceding weeks, four other Abzas Media employees have been detained.

Governance and Corruption

The results of the 2022 evaluation within the PISA – International Student Assessment Program have been released. This program employs assessments as one of the most effective tools for comparing the education systems of different countries. Regrettably, the recent results for Azerbaijan are disheartening. Across all domains, there is a decline in average scores even when compared to the 2018 assessment. Notably, Azerbaijan stands out as one of the few countries where participating students were exclusively chosen from the capital, as opposed to being representative of the entire nation. It is plausible that had students from all regions been included, the results might have been somewhat lower. According to the data released by PISA, in 2022, 75% of students in Baku (Azerbaijan) reported that they make friends easily at school (OECD average: 76%) and 75% felt that they belong at school (OECD average: 75%). Meanwhile, 25% reported feeling lonely at school, and 26% like an outsider or left out of things at school (OECD average: 16% and 17%). Compared to 2018, students’ sense of belonging at school improved in Baku (Azerbaijan). Moreover, students’ satisfaction with life, more generally, declined in many countries and economies over recent years. In 2022, 22% of students in Baku (Azerbaijan) reported that they were not satisfied with their lives: they rated their satisfaction with life between 0 and 4 on a scale ranging from 0 to 10. In 2018, fewer students were not satisfied with life (19%). On average, across OECD countries, the proportion of students who are not satisfied with life increased from 11% in 2015 to 16% in 2018 and 18% in 2022.

There is a disturbing rise in measles cases, with five children (as per official records) succumbing to the disease within a week. Despite these tragic incidents, there has been no official response addressing the underlying causes. The reported cases include the deaths of 9-year-old Rinat Jahangirli from Gobustan settlement in the Garadagh region on November 29, 4-year-old Rufat Garibli in the Kurdamir region at the end of November, a 1-year-old child in Sabirabad region on December 1, two-year-old Elmir Elbrus oglu of Bakhishli in Gobustan on December 2, and, on December 5, Samira Elkhan Aliyeva, aged 10, in Neftchala.

Jamil Hasanli, the Chairperson of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), expressed concern over the troubling situation, attributing the government for the extremely inadequate state of health services, nutrition, and the quality of food provided for children. Hasanli : “They talk about different things, they talk about the collapse of Europe and America, but in the 21st century, a child dies of measles in our country. The root causes are multifaceted: delayed vaccinations, deteriorating social conditions for children exacerbated by the non-payment of child allowances, leading to nearly half of the country’s children struggling to access adequate nutrition. A weakened immunity prevails, with many children experiencing stunted growth due to insufficient nourishment. The minimum living wage for children nationwide in 2024 is established at 235 manats, equating to a mere 7 manats and 80 kopecks per day. To put this in perspective, the daily allocation for prisoners is 14 manats and 80 kopecks (a figure, incidentally, higher than the 59 manats in Armenia). A staggering 70 percent of public sector workers earn a monthly salary below 300 manats, posing significant challenges in providing for children. Despite claims of a poverty reduction to 5 percent, this narrative is debunked as built on falsehoods. Regional disparities persist and worsen, leading to tragic consequences. Within a week, five children fall ill with measles, while the discourse focuses on sending vaccines to African nations. They invite some individuals from French overseas territories, including Guinea, Polynesia, New Caledonia for propaganda, while astonishingly, the living standards in these French colonies surpass independent Azerbaijan’s by 8-10 times. The country’s healthcare system is in a dire state, with the insurance system inadvertently perpetuating the measles issue, causing child fatalities due to inadequate nutrition and delayed vaccinations.

On Thursday, President Ilham Aliyev declared an early presidential election in the country, scheduled for February next year. In an order published by the President’s office, Aliyev directed, that the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Azerbaijan should ensure that the snap presidential elections of the Republic of Azerbaijan are scheduled for February 7, 2024. The originally scheduled presidential elections in Azerbaijan were set for 2025.

This surprise announcement met with mixed reactions. Opposition leader and chairperson of NCDF Jamil Hasanli said that as long as Aliyev remains in power, the elections are merely a formality. Hasanli: This is not an extraordinary presidential election, but a “sudden” election. Extraordinary election does not mean that the parliamentary or presidential elections held in this manner should not be subject to public discussion. I have repeatedly said in my public speeches after the last referendum that as long as Ilham Aliyev is the president, there will be no further elections in Azerbaijan, only extraordinary (in fact, “sudden”) elections. Just because the president was granted such authority through a fraudulent referendum, it doesn’t imply that all elections should be conducted at the president’s discretion in an extraordinary fashion. In global practice, presidential institutions use this right only in exceptional cases.” Hasanli also said that the period from December to February is unfavorable for holding elections, campaigning, and conducting election rallies. The country is under pandemic restrictions, with bans on free assembly and closed land borders. Press persecution persists, with six journalists arrested in a single week. Ten members of the APFP  are imprisoned on false charges. Gubad Ibadoglu, the chairman of the ADR party, and Rufat Muradli, a party member, were detained on false charges. To exert pressure on Musavat chairman Arif Hajili, his son Orkhan Hajili was arrested on unfounded charges. Media outlets like Abzas Media and Kanal-13 have been shut down. Genuine opposition parties face persecution, and the number of political prisoners exceeds 200, including individuals who could be potential candidates. Today, there was a sudden earthquake in the country and sudden presidential elections were scheduled. There is no such thing as an election in Azerbaijan. Whether it’s the next one, special, or snap elections. The results of all of them are known before the election. Moreover, Hasanli also noted that coincidentally, on December 7, the Russian Federation Council also set the presidential elections for March 17, pointing out that these actions are being coordinated simultaneously.

Member of APFP Fuad Gahramanli also reacted to news about snap elections saying that Aliyev made this decision due to external factors.  Gahramanli: “At a time when there is an open conflict with the West, it is clear that Ilham Aliyev does not think of gaining a democratic image for himself through elections, and in the context of current relations, he does not need it. It is clear that it is impossible for him to go to a new election and be re-elected president without massive fraud. In this case, he will open the way for greater pressure against himself and his authority. Therefore, the need for this election is not related to him changing his image and preparing to become a democratic leader. Seeing that the geopolitical conflict between the West and Russia carries great risks, is Ilham Aliyev not preparing to leave power with this step? But how will his team react to this, if this is a withdrawal, was it agreed with them, or does he expose his team with this step? The suddenness of this decision, and the fact that there was no prior information about it, even at the top of the government, shows that Ilham Aliyev made this decision due to external influence. If not, what kind of election is this? In the absence of internal conditions necessitating such an election, it raises the possibility that there are external influences in his decision that are unknown to us.”


December 8, 2023