Center for National and International Studies



Recent arrests of journalists, civil society activists and opposition figures in Azerbaijan are deeply disturbing…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

During the latest court hearing, based on lawyer Elchin Sadigov‘s petition, the court initially ruled to remove Sevinj Vagifgizi, the editor-in-chief of AbzasMedia, from the glass cage. However, the guards (convoy) refused to comply with the court decision, citing the denial from the head of the penitentiary service. Upon further deliberation, the judges reversed their decision, refusing to accept the lawyer’s petition. Additionally, Journalist Elnara Gasimova appeared in court with her arms handcuffed behind her back. The disrespectful treatment of both journalists during the court proceedings sparked reactions from fellow journalists and human rights organizations.

Ambassador of the European Union to Azerbaijan Peter Michalko expressed his reaction to the treatment of journalists. He conveyed his sentiments through a tweet on the X platform: “I was appalled by the reports of denigrating treatment of some of the journalists recently arrested in Azerbaijan, particularly young women, handcuffed in courtroom, put in glass cages or not allowed basic human needs. Everybody has the right to be treated with dignity & respect.”

The spokesperson of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs Aykhan Hajizada responded to ambassador’s comments calling them groundless. “This claim is both groundless & irresponsible! It would be better if Ambassador would concentrate on lack of justice & mistreatment in the court systems of certain EU countries. Interference in the judiciary of that was built on best international practices is unacceptable”, tweeted Hajizada.

The United States once again called on the government of Azerbaijan to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. “Recent arrests of journalists, civil society activists and opposition figures in Azerbaijan are deeply disturbing. More than ten people have been detained in the last two months alone,” the spokesperson of the State Department said in response to Turan News Agency’s question.

According to lawyer Agil Layij, journalist Sevinj Vagifqizi had a covert trial. At the Court of Appeal, Lahij accidentally encountered Sevinj while leaving Tofig Yagublu‘s trial. Consequently, without informing Sevinj’s lawyers, she was assigned a lawyer. It was revealed that the Penitentiary Service prohibited the detained AbzasMedia employees from communicating with their relatives and lawyers over the phone. The court endorsed the unlawful political directive against the journalist, said Layij.

The Baku Khatai District Court dismissed imprisoned journalist Nargiz Absalamova’s complaint about the restrictions on meetings and phone conversations with her family members. The journalist herself did not attend the court session, as reported by her lawyer Shahla Humbatova. Additionally, journalist Shahin Rzayev received a 15-day administrative arrest for hooliganism.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Azerbaijani government to release the journalist. In its tweet, the committee stated: “CPJ reiterates a call for Azerbaijan authorities to release all detained Abzas Media staff and drop the charges against them.”

The European Parliament has declined to dispatch observers for the upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan, according to a statement signed by the members of the European Parliament. The statement underscores that the European Parliament will not be sending observers to the elections scheduled for February 7 in Azerbaijan, emphasizing that no member of the European Parliament possesses the authority to observe these elections. Signatories to the statement include David McAllister, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, and Thomas Tobe, Chairman of the Development Committee.

It is reported that Aziz Orujov, the head of Channel 13, has been taken to the Sabail district police station for investigation. According to Orujov‘s family, the conditions of detention at the Sabail district police station are extremely poor, with detainees being held in the basement during interrogations, experiencing inadequate ventilation and overall substandard conditions. During a previous interrogation, Aziz‘s health deteriorated, prompting an emergency medical service call. Despite this, he was placed back in the same inhospitable conditions. Aziz‘s brother holds the investigative body, the conducting investigator, and the individuals ordering the arrest directly responsible for any health issues that may arise.

The trial of Aykhan Israfilov, a member of the Management Board of the Confederation of Labor Table Trade Unions, has commenced. In a statement during the proceedings led by Judge Fakhri Mammadov at the Baku Court of Serious Crimes, Aykhan Israfilov asserted that the drug charges against him are unfounded. He claimed that the Narimanov District Police Department planted the alleged drugs in his pocket. According to him, upon leaving his house on August 11, plainclothes policemen stopped him and took him to the Narimanov District Police Station, where an operator named Fariz mentioned that the “order for you came from above.” They allegedly coerced him to accept a package, and when he resisted, they reportedly took him to a room, beat him, and threatened his family until he agreed.

The court has decided to send inquiries to the detention center and prosecutor’s office regarding the physical and psychological violence that Aykhan Israfilov complained about. The next hearing for the activist’s case is scheduled for January 30.

Opposition leader Tofig Yagublu was not granted house arrest. According to his daughter Nigar Hezi, trial of Tofig Yagublu took place without his participation, with judges Mirzali Abbasov, Ramin Garagurbanli, and Anar Ibrahimov overseeing the process. Tofig Yagublu strongly criticized the judges for allegedly considering the case by order and making unfounded decisions. The judges removed Tofig Yagublu from the courtroom after he accused them of fraud and stated, “you are not a judge.” Despite this, the judges did not approve the petition for house arrest.

Referring to official statistics, Altay Goyushov, the Director of the Baku Research Institute, pointed out that a significant portion of the population struggles to afford electricity and gas bills. In a Facebook post, Goyushov highlighted the government’s claim that 50% of country’s population  has not exceeded the gas limit, which is presented as a success. However, he argued that this statistic actually indicates that many impoverished individuals are opting to endure the cold rather than incurring additional heating expenses. Observing that, during winter, most households in Azerbaijan show residents layered in clothing, Goyushov emphasized the challenges faced by a substantial part of the population.

January 19, 2024