Center for National and International Studies
“The crime committed against me is not the first crime committed by the authorities against citizens in Azerbaijan, but it must be the last…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Liberties
On Thursday night, well-known activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was abducted, tortured, videotaped, and threatened by four unidentified masked men. His Facebook posts about Internal Affairs Minster Vilayat Eyvazov were deleted. Hajiyev shared the shocking details on his Facebook post: “I was abducted by four masked persons at about 11 pm on April 21, at the intersection of Nakhchivani and Akhmedbekov streets (near business center Caspian Pkaza). They put a bag over my head and drove in an unknown direction…I was blindfolded and handcuffed and forced to wear headphones. After a while, I was transferred to another car and taken to a dark place. When I opened my eyes, I saw that I was in a bathroom. I was warned that I would be raped and killed if I continued to criticize the Minister.” Hajiyev said that he was asked from whom he received instructions to write critical posts about the head of the Interior Ministry Vilayat Eyvazov. When he replied that he did not receive any instructions, he was stripped and demanded to delete the posts about the minister. According to Hajiyev, they urinated on him and filmed everything that happened on camera. Hajiyev was later released in a deserted place, outside of Baku. Hajiyev said that the Interior Ministry is behind the crime. Hajiyev’a Facebook post read: All this and what has happened in the past year (the release of cyber criminals after they were found, the events surrounding Fuad Muradov, the official slander of the Interior Ministry, assault against me at the BSBPI, etc.) give me a firm idea that the Ministry of Interior is behind it. Minister Eyvazov will be personally responsible for these criminal acts until he proves the opposite and finds and punishes the perpetrators. From now on, the responsibility for every step that will harm my life and health will fall on both him and the person who appointed him to that post.”
The abduction of Hajiyev and the inhuman treatment against him caused outrage on social media. Chairperson of APFP Ali Karimli said that “what was done to Bakhtiyar Hajiyev is terrorism at the state level.” According to Karimli, “this crime was committed by the regime, and the Azerbaijani society must respond to this deplorable act by uniting to expose the criminal regime and accelerating the country’s liberation from this criminal government.”
Exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli who was kidnapped in Georgia and later tortured and arrested in Azerbaijan in 2017, reacted to Hajiyev’s abduction, saying that “Ilham Aliyev was responsible for every misconduct in this country.” Mukhtarli wrote: “The name of the action against Bakhtiyar Hajiyev is dishonor. Kidnapping, murder, and torture are already state policies. In fact, the state no longer exists. Ilham Aliyev created a jungle principality based on unworthiness, violence, and dishonesty. Ilham Aliyev is responsible for every misconduct in this country. It was Ilham Aliyev who appointed the ministers and gave them limitless power.”
Chairman of NCDF Jamil Hasanli said that “In Azerbaijan, the state has been destroyed, and either that state will be restored, or people will continue to be victims of these terrible terrorist acts…Every and each one of them, till the last one!”
Bakhtiyar Hajiyev announced that to end the unlawful acts and crimes committed by the authorities against the citizens, he launched “Justice For Everyone” campaign. Hajiyev’s post reads: The crime committed against me is not the first crime committed by the authorities against citizens in Azerbaijan, but it must be the last. The Tartar events, the Ganja events, the Nardaran events, the arrest of various political party activists, the beating of human rights activists, the abduction and beating of Tofig Yagublu from the police station, the violation of people’s property rights, the demolition of their homes. Every citizen faces more or less injustice, including the injustices against the families of martyrs and veterans who are refused to receive any support. This must be stopped.”
Human rights activist, former investigator, and former political prisoner Rufat Safarov was subjected to police violence in front of the Court of Appeal, where Safarov went to attend the court hearing of political prisoner Ali Aliyev. Safarov described what happened: “In the courtyard of the Baku Court of Appeal, 6-7 police attacked me, put their feet on my head while insulting and cursing. They took my phone and ID. Of course, I have confronted it as it was completely unlawful. I will continue to disobey illegal instructions.”
Safarov also reacted to what happened to Hajiyev, arguing that anyone who keeps silent about such serious crimes is complicit. Safarov wrote: If I call myself a critic of the current administration and describe myself as an opposition, but do not express my position on the serious crime committed against Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, if I remain silent, it means that I am reaching for the crumbs of the government’s table and licking their leftovers. As a citizen of Azerbaijan, if I do not react to the grave crime committed against Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, if I behave as dumb, deaf, and blind, I am not only a bad citizen but also a bad human being. This means that I not only deserve the most horrible and ruthless treatment of the current system but also of life in general.”
Member of APFP Fuad Gahramanli reacted to the police brutality, saying that “if a human rights activist is subjected to such violence in daylight in front of everyone, it means that the violation of human rights in the country is a state policy.”
Chairperson of ADWP Gubad Ibadoghlu also reacted to both Hajiyev’s and Safarov’s cases, condemning the government. Ibadoghlu wrote: Violence against human rights activist Rufat Safarov and activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a Harvard graduate, showed that power in Azerbaijan is in the hands of a group of thieves, robbers, and bandits. Look who rules this country, how and by what means free speech is stifled, and how independent activists are punished. Azerbaijan has become a very dangerous country, where everyone is at risk. So do not be silent, express your opinion, and protest!”
Governance and Corruption
In his interview with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), talking about his latest book, Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals, the British journalist Oliver Bullough told that Azerbaijani officials laundered 15% of the country’s gross domestic product and smuggled it to England. According to Bullough, the British Parliament and the British government have been informed of the issue but have decided not to take any practical action against the corruption. Parts of Bullough’s interview read: One of the stories that shocked me the most in “Butler to the World” was the story of how British shell companies were used to launder hundreds of millions of euros out of the former Soviet Union. This was uncovered by journalists, private investigators, and government investigators. And this information was taken by members of the British Parliament to the House of Commons and presented to the government. They knew what had happened. They knew, for example, that money laundering had cost Azerbaijan 15% of its GDP in one go. And that was all hidden behind British shell companies. And yet, when the British government had a chance to do something about that, to prevent that happening again, they chose not to. The reason they chose not to was because of their concerns about preserving the competitiveness of the city of London.”
Bullough’s interview caused great outrage among Azerbaijani active social media users and brought corruption and bad governance issues back into the discussion. Chairperson of APFP Ali Karimli said that although it is not a surprise to read such corruption scandals that involve Azerbaijani politicians, it is the duty of the citizens to finally mobilize and demand accountability. Karimli wrote on Facebook: Now do you know why there is “no money” in our country to pay child benefits, create jobs for the unemployed, and increase salaries and pensions? Now, do you know why the families of martyrs and veterans are not given the benefits they deserve? Why are there no budget funds to invest in strengthening the country’s agriculture, economy, education, and health system? After so many facts and proofs, everything should be clear to everyone. It is up to the responsible citizens who know their rights to mobilize, to unite, to work day and night in order to restore the people’s power and return the stolen wealth. We need to own our wealth and destiny as a nation.”
Social and Economic Issues
Couriers go on a Strike
More than 100 Wolt couriers started a strike. The Voice of the Worker (“İşçinin səsi”) reports that the couriers deactivated the company’s mobile application demanding a salary increase. According to workers, the delivery company Wolt has already fired many couriers. According to the organizers of the strike, when they demand a salary increase, the company threatens that there are hundreds of people who want to work and are waiting in line. “They break you psychologically and convince you that you don’t matter, you’re just a statistic, you’re one of the hundreds of couriers,” one of the couriers said. The couriers of the rivaling company Bolt also said that they would join the strike demanding higher salaries. Couriers who deliver food and grocery products every day from morning till late hours work without basic labor protections such as paid holidays, sick leave, and protection from unfair dismissal. According to the couriers, in recent months, the cost of living has risen, which makes it impossible to live under current paychecks. Workers’ posts on social media ended with a vow to keep their fight until they succeed in securing better payment. “Small snowflakes can create big snowballs.” read the statement.
Activist Ilkin Rustamzade expressed solidarity with the Wolt couriers, urging the company to refrain from using any form of violence against employees, including psychological harassment. Rustamzade said that he would not use the Wolt App until the problem is resolved in favor of employees and called the public to show solidarity.
In Azerbaijan, from May 1, the requirement of using face masks in indoor public places will be lifted, though the special quarantine regime was extended until 06:00 on July 1, 2022. Reactions to the extension of the special quarantine regime raised questions, with many arguing that it is unnecessary. Chairperson of ADWP Gubad Ibadoghlu said that “for the government, the COVID-19 pandemic is not epidemiological, but rather serves its political interests.” Ibadoghlu argued that “the government extends the term of the special quarantine regime and restricts the freedom of assembly and association for the opposition, but does not comply with the requirements and continues to violate them at any time.” Ibadoghlu called the civil society organizations and political parties to demand an end to the special quarantine regime. “Although the pandemic will end all over the world, it will not end in Azerbaijan because it serves the interests of the authoritarian and corrupt governments to fine businessmen and stifle political freedoms.” Ibadoghlu ended his post.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) temporarily housed in the Shuvalan settlement of Baku’s Khazar district held a protest rally on April 22. They closed the highway and protested against the lack of water, electricity, and gas in the old boarding house. The protesters said that the relevant agencies had suspended the provision of these utilities, and the authorities did not respond to their appeals.
April 26, 2022