Center for National and International Studies
“The main purpose of the recently intensified anti-US and anti-European rhetoric, the growing closeness to Russia, and the increase in repressions in the country is that the regime adapts the country to Central Asian standards…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms
The members of “Abzas Media” has issued a statement addressing investigative journalists. Accoridng to the statement director Ulvi Hasanli and editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifgizi have been arrested in connection with corruption investigations they conducted. The statement calls on investigative journalists worldwide for support, emphasizing their commitment to continuing their investigations from the point they were interrupted. Notably, Ulvi Hasanli and Sevinj Vagifgizi have been subjected to restrictions, including a prohibition on phone calls and meetings with their family members, as informed by their lawyers, Ms. Zibeyda and Agil Layj, after meeting them at the Kurdakhani detention center. Unfortunately, there is no available information regarding Muhammed Kekalov, another editor of Abzas media, who was forcibly taken from his home and arrested. Due to the pressure he faced, Kekalov was compelled to abandon legal representation, making it impossible to establish contact with him.
Despite the appeal, the Baku Court of Appeal rejected the complaint filed by the management of “Abzas Media,” regarding the case of Ulvi Hasanli and Sevinj Vagifqizi. Sevinj Vagifqizi contests the charges brought against her under Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code, asserting that the accusation of smuggling by a group of people is unfounded. According to Vagifqizi, who claims to be a victim of political maneuvering, the real motive behind her arrest lies in her investigation into the corruption of high-ranking officials.
Rubaba Guliyeva, the wife of Abzas Media director Ulvi Hasanli, received a summons from the police on November 24. It is believed that she was called to provide testimony in the criminal case involving Ulvi Hasanli and Abzas Media editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifqizi. Journalists Mina Alyarli and Elnara Gasimova were also summoned to the Baku City Police Department as witnesses in the same criminal case against Ulvi Hasanli and Sevinj Vagifqizi.
For three days now, veteran Rza Safarsoy and his wife Tarana Safarsoy have been missing, after having been abducted from their home. Only those within their immediate circle are privy to this situation, with no public information available. Notably, the ADR Party addressed the matter, calling for information about their whereabouts. It is argued that the grounds for their detention are linked to his criticism of President Ilham Aliyev.
Governance and Corruption
Azerbaijani state media has initiated a campaign targeting individuals who have participated in US educational programs, labeling them as agents of the United States. Numerous articles have been published accusing organizations like USAID and NED of infiltrating Azerbaijan’s domestic affairs and allegedly supporting a group of agents aiming to destabilize the country. The government has publicly identified these highly educated individuals, considered a crucial human resource for Azerbaijan, as agents of the US.
The U.S. Educated Azerbaijani Alumni Association (AAA) had organized an Alumni Anniversary Gala scheduled for November 27, bringing together graduates who studied in the USA at the JW Marriott Absheron Hotel in Baku. However, government-affiliated media outlets have referred to the participants of this gathering as part of “the US agency network,” leading to the cancellation of the event.
Prior to the publication of these articles, Hikmat Hajiyev, the assistant to the president, made serious accusations against USAID and its head, Samantha Power.
In response to the government’s anti-US rhetoric and allegations against individuals educated in the United States, opposition leader Ali Karimli pointed out that a significant number of current cabinet members, including the ministers of education, economy, and taxes, along with several other high-ranking officials, have themselves pursued their studies in the United States.
Karimli: “Azerbaijan is turning into a country of absurdities right before our eyes. While we are eagerly waiting for the return of thousands of young Azerbaijanis who have received higher education in the USA and Europe, the regime-affiliated press has launched a merciless slander and blackmail campaign against those young people. Our people hoped that an opportunity would be created for our young people who received higher education in the USA and Europe to contribute to the development and modernization of our country. We hoped that those young people would take an active role in the implementation of modern management in Azerbaijan, in the implementation of reforms in the economy, education, and health care, in short, in all spheres of life. Our young people who are getting higher education in the USA and Europe, and all the progressive people who are in favor of democratization and European integration, should be aware that our country is being dragged into the actual abyss. In order to save Azerbaijan from this disaster scenario, I call on all patriotic and progressive forces of the country to raise their voices, protest, organize, and not give up on the ideas of the republic.”
Ali Karimli also argued that the main purpose of the recently intensified anti-US and anti-European rhetoric, the closeness to Russia, and the increase in repressions in the country is that the regime adapts the country to Central Asian standards.
Human Rights Advocate Anar Mammadli said that the attempt to link civil activism in Azerbaijan to foreign organizations is aimed at discrediting the struggle for human rights and freedoms in the country. Mammadli noted that there is an attempt to portray Azerbaijanis as incapable of advocating for their rights without external assistance. He pointed out that when civil society institutions emerged in the country in the 90s, neither USAID, the United Nations Development Program, nor the European Union were present. These institutions, during their operations in the country, predominantly supported state programs and allocated a significant portion of their financial resources to projects endorsed by the government. In essence, even those in positions of authority are aware that the assertions implying these institutions would instigate color revolutions are baseless and without merit. Over the past two decades, the Azerbaijani government has experienced periodic tensions and reconciliations with U.S. officials. “Throughout years, numerous U.S. officials and institutions have not hesitated to provide political support to Azerbaijani authorities on the international stage,” concluded Mammadli.
The State Statistics Committee recently reported the opening of 60.9 thousand new jobs in Azerbaijan over the first 9 months of the year, with 92.6 percent attributed to the private sector. However, opposition leader Jamil Hasanli has raised doubts about the accuracy of these statistics, asserting that they are far from reflective of reality. In a Facebook post, Hasanli revealed that he had closed his tax identity card five years ago. To his surprise, the government automatically reopened it after five years, categorizing him as a new employee in the private sector. In his post, Hasanli recounted a visit to the “Dost” service to obtain a document, where he was informed of his employment status. Despite his insistence that he was not working and had even applied to relevant authorities for voluntary teaching, he was told that he was registered as an active employee. Disturbed by this revelation, he visited the tax office, explaining that he had closed his Vöen (tax identity) five years ago, and there was no activity during that period. However, officials informed him that Vöen is automatically restored after five years, resulting in the involuntary registration of individuals as new employees.
Journalist Parviz Hashimli has expressed concern that Novruz Karimov, a judge previously accused of torture and delivering false verdicts, was invited to an anti-Torture event organized witht the support of the British Embassy in Azerbaijan. Hashimli revealed that the event was organzied with the financial support of the British Embassy in Baku and hosted by the Anti-Torture Center, led by Fikret Jafarli, who has recently become involved in human rights advocacy. Hashimli said that he had been invited to the event but couldn’t attend due to personal reasons. Subsequently, he learned that Novruz Karimov, formerly an investigator in the Ministry of National Security, and accused of personally torturing Novruzali Mammadov, a prominent representative of the Talish people, was a speaker at the event. Karimov was later integrated into the judicial system by Eldar Mahmudov, and according to Hashimli, handled the criminal cases of individuals unjustly arrested by the National Security Service, issuing numerous false verdicts.
Hashimli, who himself received an 8-year sentence despite proving his innocence, criticized the inclusion of a judge who knowingly delivers illegal sentences in an event against torture. He urged the British Embassy to take the matter seriously and recommended that Fikret Jafarli apologize and seek an alternative profession.
November 28, 2023