Center for National and International Studies



“Repression against independent voices in Azerbaijan is said to intensify as the country aligns more closely with Russia…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

Family members of Arzu Sayadoglu, an outspoken critic of the government on Internet channels, have been unable to contact him for three days. Human rights defender Rufat Safarov, who reported the situation to Meydan TV, suspects that the journalist may have been detained by law enforcement agencies. Arzu Sayadoglu, the head and presenter of the YouTube channel “Arzu Sayadoglu,” frequently criticized the political situation in the country and the actions of officials. According to Safarov, Sayadoglu’s recent disappearance followed his appearance on the “Azad soz” channel, where, in addition to expressing critical opinions, he called on people not to remain silent and to engage in peaceful protests. Given previous incidents of activists disappearing and later being found in police custody, pretrial detention centers, or detention centers DTX (State Security Service), there is concern that Sayadoglu may have faced a similar fate. Safarov stated that the lack of information about Sayadoglu’s detention and whereabouts is troubling, and there are fears that he may be subjected to torture. Efforts to obtain information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs were unsuccessful.

On January 25, 2024, the trial of journalist and political prisoner Osman Narimanoglu Rzayev concluded in the Ganja Serious Crimes Court, presided over by Judge Roman Alakbarli. His wife, Arzu Rzayeva, provided the details of the trial. Prosecutor Mushvig Rahimov sought an 8-year sentence for Narimanoglu. Following the judges’ deliberation, the verdict was delivered, sentencing Osman Rzayev to 6 years and 6 months. The decision will be appealed to the Ganja Court of Appeal. During the trial, Osman Rzayev was given the opportunity to make a final statement, and he asserted his innocence, declaring that he did not consider himself guilty. Rzayev was arrested on July 5, 2022, on charges of extorting money from an official of the Goranboy District Reclamation Department and doctors at the Goygol District Hospital. Upon his arrest, he refuted the accusations, stating that those he exposed for corruption had falsely accused him.

The International Association for the Protection of Human Rights, an organization founded in Belgium in 2013 by a group of exiled Azerbaijani former political prisoners, has released a report highlighting the worsening situation of media freedom in Azerbaijan during 2023. The report, titled “The State of the Media in Azerbaijan in 2023: Arrests and Harassment,” paints a grim picture of political pressures, violence against journalists, and systematic suppression of independent mass media. The report emphasizes that Azerbaijan’s struggle with freedom of speech is not a new phenomenon but has intensified over the years. It alleges that the authorities are implementing policies to destroy independent media and foster an atmosphere of fear and repression since 2021. According to the report, journalists and bloggers critical of the government have faced arrests, travel bans, and police violence. The government is purportedly manipulating legislation to curb dissent by restricting freedom of expression. Criticism on social networks reportedly leads to arrests, fostering widespread self-censorship among independent journalists and bloggers. The report highlights a troubling link between the rise in arrests and changes in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy. Repression against independent voices is said to intensify as the country aligns more closely with Russia. The authorities are allegedly attempting to silence opposition figures, civil society activists, and free media, perceiving them as a threat to anticipated political changes. The report contends that the media space in Azerbaijan is tightly controlled by the government, suppressing independent television, radio broadcasts, and critical print newspapers. Websites like “Azadlig” and “Meydan TV” are blocked, and there is no independent TV channel in the country. Government control extends to online platforms, forcing bloggers to register domains outside Azerbaijan to evade restrictions.

It is reported that Elshan Ibrahimov, a war veteran from the Fuzuli district who served during the 44-day Karabakh War, attempted suicide due to his inability to obtain a disability degree and purchase medicines from the Fuzuli district hospital. Currently, he is in the Diagnostic Center of Fuzuli district, and his condition is described as moderate.

The daughter of political prisoner Tofig Yagublu, activist Nigar Hezi, stated that despite numerous attempts, the prison authorities where Yagublu is detained do not allow his son-in-law, journalist Seymur Hezi, to see him. In her Facebook post, Nigar Hezi provided a detailed account of the situation. Her post:  “So, since my father was arrested, every time we go to see him Seymur and I present our IDs in order to be allowed for the meeting. Every time, Seymur is not allowed to meet.” She mentioned that her husband is consistently denied the meeting. The authorities claim various reasons, such as the absence of the chief Elnur Ismayilov or awaiting approval from higher authorities. Nigar expressed frustration at the situation, questioning whether they don’t recognize the marriage formalized by the registry office or if they refuse to acknowledge Seymur as Tofiq Yagublu‘s son-in-law. She highlighted the legal right for a prisoner to meet anyone positively affecting their mood and criticized the unjust denial of family visits. Nigar sarcastically emphasized the need to prove that she is Yagublu’s daughter and Seymur‘s family status with legal documents in future encounters.

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly has expressed horror at the torture methods employed in Azerbaijan. The document reveals that these methods include electrocution, nailing individuals to walls, blindfolding prisoners, genital removal, rape of those under investigation, threats to rape family members, and more. It notes that during the “Tartar incidents” in 2017, numerous detainees suffered torture and inhumane treatment, resulting in 10 confirmed deaths. The resolution highlights that individuals detained were subjected to torture to extract confessions of treason. Additionally, reports indicate the use of torture and ill-treatment against members of the political opposition, journalists, and human rights defenders.

Ahead of the snap presidential elections scheduled for February 7, the Central Election Committee (MSK) is reportedly sending numerous text messages to citizens urging them to vote. Social networks are filled with satire and humorous remarks about these SMS messages. Some argue that as the main opposition parties have boycotted the elections, the authorities, fearing low voter turnout, have resorted to sending text messages to everyone. In other words, there are claims that the authorities recognize that people are not going to vote of their own free will.

Moreover, opponents of Ilham Aliyev in this election have consistently reiterated their support for his political course. In their airtime and campaigns, all candidates running against Aliyev express admiration and endorsement of him, raising questions about why they chose to run for the presidency in the first place. Some members of opposition parties argue that during these elections, it will likely be challenging to falsify votes since people might abstain from voting altogether. With the candidates seemingly supporting and even excessively praising Aliyev, the credibility of the election comes into question.

January 30, 2024