Center for National and International Studies



“Judges in Azerbaijan do not base their decisions on laws but simply carry out orders given to them…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

On January 10, the Khatai District Court reviewed the requests for the house arrest of three journalists arrested in the criminal case related to “AbzasMedia” – Sevinj Abbasova (Vagifqizi), Ulvi Hasanli, and Hafiz Babali. While the court proceedings were conducted separately, all three cases were overseen by Judge Sulhane Hajiyeva. The judge declined to grant house arrest for the journalists. Sevinj Vagifqizi expressed in her statement that she has no expectation of a fair decision from Judge Sulhane Hajiyeva. Justifying her viewpoint, she asserted that judges in Azerbaijan do not base their decisions on laws but simply carry out orders given to them. Emphasizing that she, as a journalist, was detained for corruption investigations, she remarked, “In Azerbaijan, journalism is considered a crime. I am in prison because of this.” Additionally, Tofig Yagublu, a member of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), was not released to house arrest.

Furthermore, journalists are prohibited from engaging in confidential communication with their legal representatives. Lawyers contend that there is no justification for the continued imprisonment of journalists. The legal representatives also expressed dissatisfaction with the restrictions imposed by the penitentiary service.

Journalist Ulvi Hasanli penned a letter to the public from his prison cell. In his letter, he conveys, “Dear friends, wonderful people! Wishing you joyous celebrations, prosperous years, and, most importantly, freedom for all of you and our country. Personally, I want to express gratitude to everyone who stood by us, especially our lawyer-journalists, human rights advocates, activists, officials, both local and foreign representatives, ordinary individuals, friends, my fellow inmates, and myself. Keep up the fight, even stronger if possible.”

He goes on to share that he, along with Sevinj Vagifgizi, Nargiz Absalamova, Hafiz Babali, and Muhammed Kekalov, is in complete isolation. They are denied telephone conversations, meetings with their families, and even calling their lawyers, the Ombudsman, or writing letters to their relatives. Books from their families are also not provided, and there are restrictions even on receiving basic items brought by their relatives. The authorities seem intent on preventing them from initiating a hunger strike. Ulvi Hasanli asserts that the government’s treatment towards them is harsher than its approach to prisoners of war, who are allowed monthly phone calls with their families. He attributes this differential treatment to the government’s animosity towards free journalists, critics, and those who speak the truth. Hasanli concludes with a call for resilience and an encouragement to continue expressing oneself without hesitation.

On January 9, criminal responsibility was assigned to three individuals in connection with the fire that resulted in the tragic death of four infants at the Republican Perinatal Center. The implicated individuals are Mehriban Abbasguliyeva, the director of the Center, Hamlet Mustafayev, the head of the Anesthesiology, Resuscitation, and Intensive Therapy department, and Elnur Ahmadli, the head of the Support Services department. Mehriban Abbasguliyeva faces charges under articles 314.3 (negligence resulting in the death of two or more people) of the Criminal Code, while Hamlet Mustafayev and Elnur Ahmadli are charged under article 225.3 (violation of fire safety rules resulting in the death of two or more people). All three have been placed under house arrest for the duration of the investigation.

Gultakin Hajibeyli, a member of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), highlighted the escalating prices in Azerbaijan, underscoring the significant disparities between the European Union (EU) and Azerbaijan. Last year, I posted about the fact that many food prices in Europe are cheaper than in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis who have been living in Europe for many years, even fleeing the persecution of the regime and living there as emigrants, told me “Europe is terribly expensive (the prices I saw with my own eyes in different European countries were hallucinations apparaently), life is in Azerbaijan is beautiful” ))). “Then why did you seek refuge in Europe with a thousand and one excuses instead of living in Azerbaijan?”, I asked. Of course, the answer to my question had to be hypocritical, like “just because we wanted to do so.” Even when I wrote that “Doctors in Europe earn 6-7000 euros, some even 10000-15,000 Euros per month”, I encountered an absurd answer like “those who earns 7,000 Euros have 7,000 problems.” They said that in Europe, doctors buy houses with morgages and pay loans))). Today, I came across posts about lamb meat being sold for 20-21 manats in Azerbaijan. In a country where the minimum wage is 345 manats and 70 percent of the working population is unemployed, lamb is 20-21 manats! I do not condemn this price increase based on my first-hand experience. I still need my nerves and my health. If the price of meat is 20-21 manat, it is for coomon good, it is recommended.”

In recent days, a predominant topic of discussion on social media revolves around the delayed arrival of emergency medical vehicles, specifically ambulances, in Azerbaijan. The persisting nature of these ambulance-related issues suggests an inadequate number of such vehicles. Following the latest incident garnering attention on social media regarding delayed emergency medical responses, the state television broadcasted a program addressing the matter. The program asserted that ambulance delays were often attributed to citizens making unnecessary calls to the emergency number 911. Additionally, official figures released also affirm that the primary issue in Azerbaijan is the insufficient quantity of ambulances. Zaur Aliyev, the Chairman of the Board of the State Agency for Compulsory Medical Insurance, revealed during a press conference on the agency’s annual activities and strategic goals in December of the previous year that only 64 percent of the country’s demand for ambulances is being met. Consequently, approximately one in every three emergency calls remains unanswered. The official from the state institution further stated that prior to the implementation of compulsory medical insurance in 2021, this indicator stood at 40 percent in the country. This implies that until a few years ago, the ambulance fleet in the country could not adequately address even half of the demand.

The capital city, Baku, consistently records the highest number of complaints regarding emergency medical care. Due to significant internal migration in the country, the actual population of Baku exceeds the official figure. Speaking at a Milli Majlis meeting in December of the previous year, MP Rufat Guliyev stated that there are only 140 ambulance crews serving in the capital. This figure is corroborated by TABIB‘s statement on New Year’s preparations, released on December 30. The institution announced that the Republican Emergency and Urgent Medical Assistance Center would operate in an enhanced capacity on New Year’s Day, with approximately 150 emergency medical teams prepared for service in the capital. From these statements, it is apparent that around 150 emergency medical semi-crews are catering to Baku, where the official population is 2.6 million but is, in reality, over 3 million. MP Rufat Guliyev’s statement indicates that a few years ago, there were 175 ambulances in the capital. Therefore, in comparison to that period, the number of ambulance crews in Baku has decreased.

Economist Samir Aliyev remarked that the state budget for 2024 anticipates individual income tax to amount to 1 billion 895 million manats, which is 195 million manats more than the 2023 forecast. The State Tax Service aims to attribute part of this increase to micro-entrepreneurs. Aliyev noted that recent developments indicate the government’s inclination to forsake tax relief mechanisms. The abrupt withdrawal of concessions, ahead of the intended schedule, signals that the government, through the State Tax Service, may alter decisions without prior discussion and in a closed manner. This lack of reliability in government decisions could undermine business confidence, potentially hastening the downfall of small and medium-sized enterprises and encouraging business migration abroad. In a period of declining oil revenues, reducing the tax base might impact future state budget revenues. In any case, abandoning the new tax regime before businesses are fully adapted may incentivize non-compliance, said the economist.

January 12, 2024