Center for National and International Studies
“The Aliyev regime seeks to eradicate social-political institutions and activists who criticize and expose its oppressive, anti-people policies. Consequently, it continues to implement a sustained campaign of repression against independent and critical activists and institutions…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms
“AbzasMedia” journalists Ulvi Hasanli and Sevinj Vagifgizi have been handed a 4-month detention sentence on charges of smuggling. According to “Abzas Media,” the district court in Baku reached a verdict on Tuesday, finding Hasanli and Vagifgizi guilty of money transfer offenses within the country, leading to a four-month detention order. If convicted, they could face a maximum of 8 years in prison under Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
Mahammad Kekalov, the deputy director of Abzas Media, has been charged with smuggling as well. Elshad Hajiyev, the press secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, conveyed this information to journalist Aytaj Tapdig. He disclosed that Muhammed Kekalov faces charges under Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code. The director of “Abzas Media,” Ulvi Hasanli, and the editor-in-chief, Sevinj Vagifgizi, are similarly charged under the same article. On November 20, Muhammed Kekalov was forcibly removed from his residence by plainclothes police officers, who also confiscated his computer and various belongings. There was no contact with him for two days. Following claims by activists that Kekalov had been subjected to torture, the Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed his detention. Kekalov was denied access to the lawyer hired by his family, and instead, it was reported that a government-appointed lawyer had been assigned to him.
Claims have surfaced suggesting that Ulvi Hasanli, the director, and Muhammad Kekalov, the deputy director of “Abzas Media,” were subjected to torture during their time in custody. Hasanli communicated this information directly to his lawyer, while Kekalov’s lawyer was denied access to him and therefore could not verify the details.
Journalists Nargiz Absalamova and Sahila Aslanova were called in as witnesses to the Baku City Police Department in connection with the criminal case initiated against Ulvi Hasanli, the director of Abzas Media, and Sevinj Vagifgizi, the editor-in-chief.
A group of media representatives has released a statement condemning the crackdown on members of “Abzas Media.” The statement asserts that in Azerbaijan, freedom of speech and expression has long been subjected to persistent suppression and threats from political authorities. It contends that all fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of speech and expression, are on the verge of complete restriction and elimination. The statement characterizes the measures taken so far, along with reactionary decisions and laws enacted, as contributing to this broader pattern of repression. Azerbaijan is described as having become a country in opposition to the fundamental rights and freedoms outlined in the Constitution, international conventions it has ratified, and the commitments it has undertaken. The statement further calls upon international organizations, to which Azerbaijan is a member, urging them to take note of this situation, hold Azerbaijani authorities accountable for fulfilling obligations related to basic rights and freedoms universally recognized and established by international law, and to actively oppose any illegal and repressive actions taken by the government.
Moreover, the National Council of Democratic Forces has also released a statement denouncing this repressive action, strategically aimed at dismantling AbzasMedia as an independent media entity. The statement contends that the arrests of journalists are linked to an investigation into corrupt practices within the highest echelons of the government. It asserts that the Aliyev regime, increasingly exploiting the nation’s wealth with growing narrow-mindedness, aims to suppress any discussion of these corrupt practices. The regime seeks to eradicate social-political institutions and activists who criticize and expose the oppressive, anti-people policies that operate beyond its control. Consequently, it continues to implement a sustained campaign of repression against independent and critical activists and institutions.
Chairperson of the NCDF, Jamil Hasanli, commented on the recent arrests, warning that this is only the beginning of bigger repressions in the near future. Hasanli: “The government of Azerbaijan punishes its citizens if it comes into conflict with any foreign country. The confrontation with Iran resulted in the arrest of several hundred religious people on trumped-up charges. The anticipated confrontation with the USA and the West was expected to target proponents of democratic values. The arrest of Gubad Ibadoglu, Ülvi Hasanli, and Sevinj Vagifgızi on extremely ridiculous false charges is the beginning of this process. It is not excluded that there will be more high-profile arrests in the days ahead.”
Governance and Corruption
Hikmet Hajiyev, the assistant to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, posted strong and critical remarks on social media regarding Samantha Power, the head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). His post on social media platform X: “Pretending to academic or professional impartiality would be incorrect, as professor of ‘Human Rights” Practice at University Samantha Power @PowerUSAID in her propaganda book “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (2002)” passed in complete silence over the genocide and atrocities committed by Armenia against innocent Azerbaijani civilians. As United States PermRep at United Nations Security Council, she never dared to raise the plight of Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs and demand implementation of UNSC resolutions, let alone condemning occupation of Armenia.” Hajiyev also went further and accused Power of Azerbaijanophobia. “Azerbaijanophobia, Turkphobia, political corruption, “moneytalkism”, and political speculations under the so-called Aurora prize were probably shared values and interests between Ruben Vardanyan and Samantha Power.” Hajiyev ended his harsh accusations with a warning that USAID is not welcome in Azerbaijan anymore. “Mask Off! There is no place for USAID operation in Azerbaijan any longer!”, he added.
Although Hajiyev‘s strong criticism may be unexpected, many activists contend that this statement should be interpreted within the context of current repressions and increasing political arrests.
November 24, 2023