Center for National and International Studies



“Keeping the country closed, restricting freedoms, imposing limitations on people’s movements, and suppressing constitutional rights and freedom of assembly under the pretext of a special quarantine regime due to COVID-19 is a political decision…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

The employees of Toplum TV issued a statement announcing their intention to continue their activities despite recent arrests. Journalists of Toplum TV, led by editor-in-chief Khadija Ismayil, stated, “We will protect freedom of speech and provide a platform for those who have something to say.”  On March 6, while preparing for the next broadcast of the “News in Society,” the police raided the Toplum TV office. During the search conducted without presenting a court order, the police committed several violations. At that time, all the phones of the staff present in the editorial office were confiscated, depriving them not only of the opportunity to call a lawyer but also of informing the editor-in-chief and the founder. During the raid, the police also seized equipment in the office, gaining access to “Toplum TV” YouTube and Instagram pages from some computers, changing the names of the pages, and deleting all videos. In the statement, the TV team notes that the government’s attempt to silence “Toplum TV” is part of a broader effort to completely eliminate the media that reveals the truth in the country. “We state categorically as Toplum TV: the reason for this criminal case is not our activity; it is the crimes and illegal actions we have uncovered and brought to the public. The government is afraid of the exposure of their illegal actions, including the raids and interference with our office and internet resources.”

Relative of jailed journalist and co-founder of Toplum TV Alasgar Mammadli, Doctor Aydin Aliyev reports that he has been dismissed from the Istanbul clinic where he worked. The doctor provided this information to the Turan news agency. According to Aliyev’s statement, on March 12, the clinic’s administration informed him that he was being dismissed from his job: “They said not to come to work tomorrow morning. What about the legal state? Is it so easy to dismiss someone from their job? What about workers’ rights? What about labor contracts?”. The doctor links this decision to recent events: “My sister’s husband, Alasgar Mammadli, was arrested, and I expressed my objection towards his illegal detention. Apparently, someone didn’t like that.” Aliyev noted that he did not contest his dismissal: “My employment contract with the clinic, my certificates, taxes, social payments, everything is in order. In fact, the clinic should compensate me now.” It has not been possible to ascertain the attitude of the mentioned clinic and official institutions towards this statement yet. Moreover, Aliyev also said that, according to reliable sources, he is under surveillance, and there might be some plot against him to accuse him of some sort of crime, slander, conspiracy or accident. “I want to inform you from the beginning. If there is any such campaign to smear my reputation, do not believe it. Know that it is because of my expression against what is happening as a citizen. I have no personal animosity towards anyone. I have criticized out of conscience to inform the public and for justice to prevail.”

Chairperson of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli warned that should anything befall Mammadli, whose health is precarious in detention, the government bears full responsibility. “The regime should not forget that it bears responsibility for the life of the renowned journalist, the founder of Toplum TV, Alasgar Mammadli. Alasgar has swellings in several parts of his body. He was arrested at the hospital, where he went for a biopsy examination for the possibility of cancer. If Alesger is indeed suffering from cancer, then keeping him in custody now is tantamount to an attempt on his life.” Karimli also reminded his followers of the two previous tragic cases involving former political prisoners who died shortly after being released. “Painful as it may be, let’s remember. The deputy chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), a symbol of struggle, was killed in a similar manner. When Mrs. Gozel Bayramli returned from treatment in Georgia, they deliberately placed $10,000 in her bag at the border, knowing she was seriously ill. They confiscated her medications and denied her medical treatment even during her detention. After 2 years of illegal detention, when they finally released her, her cancer had advanced significantly. Even 9 months of treatment in Germany couldn’t save Mrs. Bayramli. They released her then because her death was imminent. They released her so she would not die in prison but in freedom. And so it happened, and our people lost an honest, principled, and dedicated politician like Mrs. Gozel Bayramli. They also ended the life of active member of APFP Elnur Farajov in prison. They accused and imprisoned 32-year-old Farajov on trumped-up charges. They released him in the final stages of his cancer, and Elnur passed away a few weeks later. He left behind a young child who was deprived of his father.”

Political prisoner Nazim Baydemirli’s condition in prison has worsened. This was reported by his wife, Farida Baydamirli. “Today I spoke with Nazim on the phone, and he reported that his health has deteriorated further. He said: “For over a week, my blood pressure has not dropped below 150/90, my heart rate has increased, and I am experiencing severe shortness of breath. For more than two weeks, I have not been allowed to go for walks outside, despite repeated appeals to the head of the detention administration, Aliyev Ismet, and Tural Mustafazade. They said I could leave when the service head gave permission. These health problems are not new; I mentioned them to him for the last time on November 30th during the last medical examination. Even the examiner himself saw that I was not in good condition. Nevertheless, on January 31st, they managed to extend my detention for another 2 months.” Farida Baydamirli said that although they requested through lawyer Agil Layij for Nazim Baydamirli to be examined by a medical doctor on February 21, 2024, their request was not granted.

Feminist activist Narmin Shahmarzade shared in a social media post that she is under surveillance by civilian police and that they could be planning to arrest her on trumped-up charges. “Without stopping, the doorbell would ring persistently. I approached the door and asked who they were. A woman hesitated and couldn’t find the words to speak, then a voice said it was the police and that they had come for registration, so I should open the door. I looked through the peephole and saw no one, but I could hear voices. The area around the peephole was empty, and it seemed they were deliberately waiting on the corners, so I couldn’t see their faces. I said that registration is done by the field police, so who are you? You can check the system (I gave my name and surname). I asked for their names and surnames, but they refused to tell me, then reluctantly mentioned something, and when I asked for the surname, they just threw it out without thinking, didn’t mention their position, and insisted that I open the door. I said I wouldn’t open the door without my lawyer. To buy time, I took down their numbers from the door and handed them to the landlord, asking them to contact him if the issue was related to the house. They didn’t speak to the landlord about the house, instead inviting him over to talk here. During this waiting process, they kept ringing the doorbell persistently, trying to get me to open the door. My lawyer Zibeyda Sadigova arrived, but they weren’t at the door at that moment. I was leaving the house, I asked my lawyer to accompany me to the street. When we went down, three civilian-dressed police officers were parked in front of my balcony, waiting for us. They looked at us, then drove away without. So the police who came for registration looked at me, but without coming close and asking anything, they left after I went out with my lawyer? Currently, I don’t know if I’m being followed or not. I want to declare now that I have always been a freelancer. The only thing they can find in my house might be some extra coins. If they enter the house, they shouldn’t mess things up; they should search like normal human beings. If they want to leave money, they can put it among my underwear; I wear size 2XL, so they can easily fit 20-30K there.”

Governance and Corruption

Former branch director of Baku City Circuit Operations Company, Chingiz Mehdiyev, is accused of embezzling nearly 400,000 manats during the organization of the Formula 1 races. In the coming days, criminal proceedings related to the case will begin in the Baku Serious Crimes Court. The criminal case related to the embezzlement of funds allocated for Formula 1 has been referred to the judges’ collegium, chaired by Leyla Asgarova-Mammadova, and consisting of Novruz Karimov and Rasim Sadikhov. Chingiz Mehdiyev, who led the sports operations department of Baku City Circuit Operations Company from 2015 to 2020, is accused under articles 179.3.2 (large-scale embezzlement), 193-1.3.2 (legalization of large amounts of property acquired through crime), 308.2 (abuse of office resulting in serious consequences), and 313 (official forgery) of the Criminal Code. However, he has not been arrested. A commitment not to leave the place has been chosen as a preventive measure during the investigation period. It is reported that during the investigation period, he reimbursed a portion of the damage caused to the state as a result of the embezzlement (approximately 100,000 manats).

The Special Quarantine Regime in Azerbaijan has been extended for another three months until July 1. According to the official statement of the Cabinet of Ministers, the extension aims to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and mitigate its potential damage in the country’s territory.

Jamil Hasanli, Chairperson of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), remarked that the government’s decision to prolong the imposed restrictions has no connection to the pandemic, which has long passed. Instead, it reflects the repressive tendencies of the regime. “Actually, this has nothing to do with health, well-being, or infection. Keeping the country closed, restricting freedoms, imposing limitations on people’s movements, and suppressing constitutional rights and freedom of assembly under the pretext of a special quarantine regime due to COVID-19 is a political decision. Attempting to use COVID-19 for political purposes is evident. Everyone knows that the special quarantine regime provides additional means to prohibit mass rallies and detain people.”

Altay Goysuhov, director of Baku Research Institute, had a sarcastic remark on the extension of the quarantine regime, saying that it is all for supporting the local oligarchs’ businesses. “As a result of the closed borders, last year, our oligarchs made 489 million manats from hotels. Instead of going abroad and benefiting others, our people should support our own national oligarchs. In other words, the extension of the quarantine and the closure of our borders is in the interest of our nation. Additionally, the government has announced that the number of taxis will be reduced because fewer people are using public transportation. This is also in the interest of our nation. When you spend money on a taxi, you benefit a taxi driver, but when you use public transportation, you directly benefit the state.”

March 15, 2024