Center for National and International Studies



“That “Iron Fist” would turn against the people of Azerbaijan after the victory in the war…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

Journalist Elnara Gasimova was apprehended today at the Baku City Police Department, where she had been summoned for questioning. She is facing the same charge as other employees of “Abzas Media” – smuggling in a group. Notably, on November 20, the director of “Abzas Media,” Ulvi Hasanli, along with his deputy Muhammad Kekalov, and on November 21, chief editor Sevinj Vagifgizi and reporter Nargiz Absalamova were detained. Subsequently, investigative journalist Hafiz Babaly was arrested on December 13. All of them are charged with Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code – smuggling committed by a group of persons who colluded in advance. The journalists reject the charges, asserting that their arrests are linked to their journalistic activities, particularly the corruption investigations published by “Abzas Media.”

According to the Human Rights Watch World Report for 2024, the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan has sharply deteriorated. The report highlights ongoing concerns such as severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and organization by the government. Instances of ill-treatment and torture in police and detention facilities continued, despite some progress. Although there were releases through an amnesty decree signed by President Ilham Aliyev, dozens of individuals with politically motivated charges remained in prison. The report specifically mentions the arrests of activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and opposition politician Gubad Ibadoglu. It also notes the continued targeting of government critics and opposition figures, including activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, APFP member Alizamin Salayev, and Gubad Ibadoglu. The document provides detailed accounts of individuals facing persecution for their posts, interviews, and other activities, such as the arrest of Orkhan Bakhishli after criticizing the arrest of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev. Independent journalist Vali Shukurzade was detained after seeking information for a journalistic investigation, and police violence was reported against protesters in Saatli district and the village of Soyudlu. The report emphasizes the arrest of Abzas Media website journalists Ulvi Hasanli and Sevinj Vagifqizi, as well as Muhammad Kekalov, associated with the publication. Additionally, former deputy Nazim Beydamirli, accused of coordinating a protest against the creation of an artificial lake for chemical waste discharge, was arrested.

Director of Baku Research Institute Altay Goyushov, commented on the prevailing repressions in the country. Repressions are raging in the country, he said. According to Goyushov, in 2020, he advocated for unity, resistance, and active opposition instead of boycotting. However, the major opposition rejected this approach. Now, Tofig Bey, one of the leaders who held the opposing view, is currently incarcerated. Goyushov noted that he had predicted this outcome in his previous social media posts.

Chairperson of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) Jamil Hasanli said that “the Iron Fist” would turn against the people of Azerbaijan after the victory in the war. Hasanli: “The country is transitioning from authoritarianism to totalitarianism precisely under the threat of the symbolic “Iron Fist”. The number of political prisoners has more than doubled last year, the last signs of more or less independent media are being targeted, six people are arrested from one media organization, mass arrests on absurd charges are total, and people’s destinies and families are being destroyed. An atmosphere of total fear has been created throughout the country. spend on the defense of 256 political prisoners arrested on false, trumped-up, political charges.”  Hasanli called on Azerbaijani public to defend the political prisoners, and give them moral support.

Before the presidential elections, President Ilham Aliyev conducted an extensive interview where he criticized the founders of the first Azerbaijani democratic republic. Aliyev stated, “It is no secret that in the 20th century, parts of Azerbaijan’s lands were ceded to Armenia. Unfortunately, one day after the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, the city of Yerevan was handed over to Armenia. However, there was no justification for this. Yerevan is an ancient city of Azerbaijan, where the Azerbaijani people have lived for centuries. The historical presence of Iravan, now being erased, confirms the existence of Azerbaijani architectural monuments and its centuries-old history. Iravan was simply an Azerbaijani city, which was demolished and destroyed. Regarding that decision, I believe, and probably everyone will agree with me, that it was a great historical crime, not a mistake, but a crime.”

Journalist Seymur Hezi commented on the president’s press conference, stating that it would be beneficial if Ilham Aliyev addressed why the funds were not allocated to the families of martyrs, why wounded veterans were neglected, why there was selective treatment for them, and addressed concerns about the lack of economic growth.

Jamil Hasanli pointed out that the undoubtedly, the most intriguing aspect of the interview was related to early elections. However, the public did not receive a coherent explanation from Ilham Aliyev. When questioned about the necessity of holding extraordinary elections, Aliyev provided three arguments: marking the beginning of a new era after the victory in Karabakh War, conducting elections across the entire country, and expressing concerns about municipal elections in 2025 taking precedence over presidential elections. “In fact, this interview was an opportunity to emphasize the post-war problems of the country, to question the truths of real life, and to hear the reasons for the transition from authoritarianism to totalitarianism in the shadow of the “Iron Fist”, said Hasanli.

Member of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Fuad Gahramanli said that Ilham Aliyev‘s statement at the last press conference that “peace negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia are not a geopolitical issue, but a bilateral problem to be solved by the two sides” shows that he continues to oppose the mediation of the West in this process. This also means that if any of the parties does not want to resolve this issue and sign a peace agreement, someone from outside should not come and pressure them, said Gahramanli. Gahramanli also mentioned that a few days ago, Louis Bono, the representative of the US State Department for the Caucasus, was scheduled to visit Baku after Armenia. His visit aimed to finalize preparations for the meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Washington. However, Baku refused to accept him, causing the Azerbaijani authorities to cast doubt on the outcomes of Assistant Secretary of State O’Brien’s well-known visit. Libby, the US ambassador who recently arrived in Baku, had to leave the country and return after a brief wait since his credentials were not accepted by the head of state. Gahramanli noted that these actions, pushing Azerbaijan towards confrontation with the West, seem to align with pleasing Russia. He argued that the Azerbaijani authorities’ position appears contradictory and influenced by external interventions. While officials like Hikmat Hajiyev and Elchin Amirbeyov convey positive messages about Azerbaijan’s willingness to engage in Western-mediated peace initiatives and sign a peace treaty, President Ilham Aliyev takes an opposing stance, blocking Western mediation. Gahramanli observed that Azerbaijan, under pressure from the West, initially responds positively to continuing peace talks with Armenia, but Russia promptly intervenes, reverting the process to its previous deadlock. He cautioned that the repeated maneuvers of the Azerbaijani authorities are approaching the limit of the other party’s tolerance, and if continued, may lead to a confrontation with the West and heightened tension.

January 16, 2024