Center for National and International Studies



“The sham presidential election in Azerbaijan on February 7 lacked competition, barred interested parties from participating, and imposed restrictions on freedoms through arbitrary bans…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

Controversial presidential elections of February 7

Ilham Aliyev secured his fifth consecutive term as Azerbaijan’s President, gathering 92% of the vote in the Wednesday elections, as announced by Mazahir Panahov, the chief of the Central Election Commission. The snap election was called a year ahead of schedule, following Azerbaijan’s reclaiming of the Nagorno-Karabakh region last September. Aliyev assumed the presidency of Azerbaijan in 2003, succeeding his father, Heydar Aliyev, who governed the country from 1993 until his death in 2003.

However, the election took place in the midst of a crackdown on independent media, with no real opposition presence. The main opposition parties in Azerbaijan opted to boycott the election, characterizing it as a mere imitation of democracy.

Independent media representatives witnessed several instances of fraud during the election, as reported by various sources. A voting mechanism referred to as the “Voter carousel” was used, wherein prearranged groups consistently cast votes across different polling stations. Citizens were compelled to participate in the polls against their will. Many recruited individuals acting as “observers” at polling stations were unaware of the party they were meant to represent. These same individuals repeatedly cast votes at specific polling stations. Independent journalists faced hindrances in conducting recordings at polling stations. Internet access was restricted, and information flow was disrupted in numerous polling stations and their vicinity. Journalists from Meydan TV, stationed at polling stations in Baku, faced difficulties in their election observation. According to their reports, restrictions on video recordings are not limited to polling stations but also affect various locations, where sending voice messages via WhatsApp is similarly restricted.

Numerous independent journalists have reported encountering obstacles on election day, particularly in certain polling stations, where they were informed that they couldn’t observe the elections since they were not registered in the Media Register. However, such a restriction is entirely illegal, given that media participation in Azerbaijani elections is governed by the Election Code. Articles 40.8 and 43 of the Election Code grant rights to all media organizations. Additionally, the foundational principle in elections is transparency and openness, implying that the electoral process is not confidential and, therefore, should be accessible for media representatives to observe. Despite the restrictive and contradictory nature of the new Media Law, it lacks the authority to interfere with the coverage of this election. The legislation does not acknowledge a media entity in a way that its activities could be contested and halted by the Media Agency solely for failing to undergo registration and without a court decision. Any media entity operating without a court order and engaging in practical activities cannot be barred from entering and covering polling stations for journalists.

Anar Mammadli, the head of the Center for Monitoring Elections and Democracy Education, remarked that “the presidential debates revealed a lack of genuine competition and political rivalry.” This statement was made in reference to the election campaign, candidate registration, and the challenges encountered throughout the election process.

On February 8, the OSCE Observation Mission held a press conference to announce its initial assessment of the elections. The OSCE Observation Mission stated that the presidential elections took place in a restrictive environment where critical voices were stifled, and there was a lack of political alternatives. The Mission declared that the narrowing space for political parties, coupled with the increased authority of the country’s leadership, resulted in a competition-deprived environment, diminishing genuine pluralism.

The National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) released a statement addressing the snap presidential election on February 7th. The statement highlighted that the election, held with the predetermined goal of declaring and formalizing the outcome, lacked minimal democratic standards, portraying it as a sham. The attendance of a small number of individuals was coerced rather than voluntary, occurring in an atmosphere of widespread apathy and boycott. Information indicates the use of administrative resources to pressure individuals from various sectors, including education, state institutions, and private industries, to vote in administrative polling stations. Despite these efforts, the regime, unable to ensure genuine voter turnout in a collectively boycotted election, organized prepared groups in a ‘carousel’ format to create an illusion of mass participation, revealing its deceitful nature. The announced results by the Central Election Commission (CEC), based on such conditions, are deemed incapable of reflecting the will of the Azerbaijani people. The legitimacy of any election outcome hinges on the participation and free competition opportunities of interested parties in the electoral process, with fair competition conditions. However, the sham presidential election in Azerbaijan on February 7 lacked candidate competition, barred interested parties from participating, and imposed restrictions on activity freedoms through arbitrary bans. The National Council, the Popular Front Party (AXCP), and the Musavat Party, emphasizing the absence of a democratic electoral environment, government control over fraudulent election commissions, denial of effective local observation, and political repression and pressures, had decided to boycott the sham election on February 7. This decision stemmed from considering the Azerbaijani people’s unwillingness to partake in such a process and their indifference to the known outcome of this election charade.

Coordination Center of Azerbaijani Political Immigrants – ASIMKOM has accepted a document calling for the international community not to endorse the repressive regime of Aliyev. ASIMKOM uploaded it to the internet as a petition for more people to take notice and sign. The statement says: The Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan has pretended to represent a democratic country that respects its international human rights obligations. However, the human rights situation in Azerbaijan is not just terrible, it has recently become catastrophic, which is regularly highlighted in reports by UN human rights agencies, the US State Department, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and non-governmental human rights organisations. Throughout the 20 years of Ilham Aliyev‘s rule, these institutions have scrupulously documented the widespread violations of human rights in Azerbaijan, including cases of arbitrary killings; acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and/or punishment committed by the security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detentions; political prisoners; politically motivated repression against individuals outside the country; lack of respect for the independence of the justice system; restrictions on freedom of expression and media, violence towards the journalists; criminal defamation laws used to restrict expression and prosecute and imprison the journalists on dubious charges; serious restrictions on the freedom of the Internet; ban on the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of associations; restrictions on freedom of movements and serious restrictions on the political involvement. The list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan never fell below 100 people in the period of Ilham Aliyev‘s rule, currently, at the beginning of January 2024, there are 274 political prisoners in the country. The Aliyev regime does not prosecute or punish the officials who have committed human rights violations. There is impunity in the country and corruption is part of the political system in Azerbaijan, headed by Ilham Aliyev‘s ruling family.” The satement also added that, the early “presidential elections” announced on 7 February 2024 are aimed at further consolidating Aliyev‘s dictatorial regime and further strengthening repression in Azerbaijan. The members of the coordination center highlighted that under current circumstances, the 29th UN Climate Change Conference – COP29, that will be held at the end of this year in Azerbaijan is “great opportunity to whitewash Aliyev‘s dynastic dictatorial regime in Azerbaijan.” The statement ended with a call on democratic leaders to make their potential participation in the 2024 COP29 summit in Baku subject to the release of all political prisoners and dismissal of trumped-up charges against them.

February 9, 2024