Center for National and International Studies



“For the first time in Azerbaijan’s history of independence, a media organization faces such total repression for its critical materials and investigations…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

Journalist Ulvi Hasanli, who is currently in prison, wrote an open letter to his 1-year-and-six-month-old daughter. In his heartfelt letter, the journalist apologizes to his daughter for being unable to be with her during the last 90 days, clarifying that he, along with his colleagues, Sevinj Vaqifgizi, Nargiz Absalamova, Elnara Gasimova, Mahammad Kekalov, and Hafiz Babali, have been arrested due to their journalistic activities. Hasanli’s letter: My dear daughter Suad. I miss you so much, my dear daughter. It’s been over 90 days since I last saw you, held you in my arms, and heard your laughter. Because I and my colleagues, Sevinj Vaqifgizi, Nargiz Absalamova, Elnara Gasimova, Mahmmed Kekalov, and Hafiz Babali, have been imprisoned due to our journalistic activities. My dear daughter, you are now 1 year and 6 months old. When we were arrested, you were just beginning to take your first steps. However, a month ago, during one of our court hearings, our lawyer, Mrs. Zibeyde, mentioned that you have started walking. Perhaps these are the most beautiful and precious moments of your life. I wished to see and experience those moments. I say “wished” because we were anticipating that we could be arrested almost every day for exposing corruption in Azerbaijan. And it happened. We got arrested because Azerbaijan has turned into one of the most repressive countries in the world. Independent journalists operate under such threats and pressures in our country. My dear Suad, I know you are not of the age to read what I am writing today. I am writing these words partly because you may forgive me for not being there and also for the time when you understand these events in the future, not to condemn me. Beautiful Suad, the majority of our colleagues from “Abzas Media” have been isolated in the most severe form for more than three months. We are forbidden to meet our loved ones, hear their voices on the phone, and they didn’t even allow us, for a brief moment, to hug you – an 18-month-old child. I cannot hold you in my arms even now. In Azerbaijan, the totalitarian Soviet regime has practically been restored, and the country is governed by Soviet mentality. Parents are still punished for their children, and children for their parents. The pension cards, the only source of income for our mothers, have been blocked, and the bank accounts of our family members and friends have been frozen, and they are prohibited from leaving the country. For the first time in Azerbaijan’s history of independence, a media organization faces such total repression for its critical materials and investigations. They have not just arrested us; they put pressure on our families, punish and seek revenge against them, without distinguishing between young and old, women and children.”

The founder and chief editor of the newspaper “Xural,” Avaz Zeynalli, and journalist Elnur Shukurov have been sentenced to a term of 9 years and 4 years in prison, respectively. Representatives of the “Defense Line”, human rights group conducted monitoring of the trial and found that the evidence presented by the prosecution is fabricated, and the information and the documents cannot be considered credible evidence. According to the “Defense Line”,  It is necessary to initiate a criminal investigation against those who knowingly and unlawfully detained Avaz Zeynalli and Elnur Shukurov, including investigators who knowingly charged them with a crime without any guilt and judges who knowingly issued unjust judgments. This is the second time Zeynalli has been unjustly imprisoned on similar charges, with fabricated accusations, the first being on October 20, 2011, for a 9-year term. In 2011, Avaz Zeynalli was deprived of freedom on charges of receiving a significant amount of bribes, repeatedly receiving bribes, including evading substantial amounts of taxes or mandatory state social insurance payments. During his first imprisonment, he spent nearly 3 years away from his profession, family, and children, behind iron bars, labeled as a “criminal.” Meanwhile, The European Court of Human Rights issued its final decision on Avaz Zeynalli‘s imprisonment. Finding violations of Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 8 (respect for private life) of the European Convention, the Azerbaijani government was ordered to pay Avaz Zeynalli compensation of 13,000 euros. However, Zeynalli was arrested again and has been held in detention since September 10, 2022. Zeynalli has been active in the media and critical journalism for many years. His sharp critical activity has contributed to his popularity and gaining tens of thousands of followers. Xural TV regularly highlighted the socio-economic, socio-political, and legal issues of the Republic, and it was considered a major and comprehensive platform for critics.

In the last ten days, it is reported that another wave of arrests of religious believers has begun. According to information obtained by Meydan TV, believers in the capital city and different parts of the country have been arrested. Among those arrested are religious figures such as Rovshan Sharifov from Lenkaran, Sakit Mammadov, Ramin Babayev from Neftchala, Nasraddin Nasirov from Goychay, Jeyhun Sayadov from Ganja, Eyvaz Bakhshiyev from Astara, Bakhtiyar Mammadov, and others. They have all been accused of drug-related offenses. However, according to their families, some of them do not even smoke cigarettes. Among them are individuals with illnesses and young children dependent on them. Bakhtiyar Mammadov’s wife is suffering from cancer, and the family’s financial situation is challenging. Accusing such religious people of drug-related offenses is an inhumane act – one of the relatives of the detainees told Meydan TV.

Lawyer Elchin Sadigov said the books brought to prison for journalist Sevinj Vaqifgizi and other political prisoners were not allowed by the prison administration, arguing that giving books to political prisoners is prohibited. Afgan Mukhtarli, an exiled journalist and former political prisoner, remarked on the restriction of books, stating that even during his imprisonment, books were typically prohibited for prisoners arrested on trumped-up charges. Mukhtarli’s social media post: For two days, the Oxford-educated new Minister of Justice, Farid Ahmadov, has been praised. The man has a doctorate from Oxford. Will it be beneficial? Is he any different from Fikrat Mammadov? No! He is not. When I was in prison, they banned books by Rasulzade, books on politics and philosophy. They didn’t allow the novel “Deli Kur” and Seymur Baycan’s book “Menim mübarizem.” The dull guardian, looking at the image of Trotsky, told me, “We don’t allow the books of the Wahhabis here.” Even the minister has studied on Mars and come back, nothing will change until Ilham Aliyev changes. An Oxford graduate should not be a slave or fool for the dictator. They should not be complicit with the corrupt regime. If it happens, the importance of that diploma is lost. Moreover, in a country where the professor of Oxford University is imprisoned, loyalty to the king is valued, not education. Ilham’s disdain for books and those involved in literature is apparent. Have you ever seen him in a bookstore or attending a book launch of an author?”

Governance and Corruption

Corruption within the Nakhchivan Army, misappropriation of soldiers’ funds, and various illicit activities are consistently highlighted in the media. The soldiers most adversely affected by these unlawful practices are those serving in the Special Purpose Forces, actively engaged in the Second Karabakh War. Kamran Teymurbayli’s father provides factual evidence to “Gundəlik Naxchıvan,” detailing how the funds allocated to these special forces are being unlawfully diverted. He reveals that over the past three years, an amount close to 20,000 manats, specifically intended for his son, has been misused. The scale of soldiers facing such embezzlement reaches into the hundreds. Agil Teymurbayli, Kamran Teymurbayli’s son, who participated in battles in Fuzuli and Shusha during the Second Karabakh War, has been recognized with various orders and medals.

March 1, 2024