Center for National and International Studies
“Ilham Aliyev is an honorary doctor of the Magtymguly University in Turkmenistan. Now it is clear why Azerbaijan is rapidly turning into Turkmenistan…”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms
Politically motivated arrests of journalists continue in Azerbaijan. At least four journalists have been arrested in Baku in the past week.
Journalist Aziz Orujov, the head of Kanal13 internet television, has been arrested. Orujov was taken into custody on November 27, as reported by his lawyer Bahruz Bayramov. According to the lawyer, Aziz Orujov faces charges related to the Criminal Code, specifically for alleged arbitrary construction or installation work on a plot of land without proper ownership, use, or lease rights as defined by law. Bahruz Bayramov provided details, stating, “his house and office were searched. He purchased a plot of land to build a house in Sabail District, where numerous houses have been constructed. Although he does not have a house of his own and resides with relatives, he was building a house in that area. Aziz Orujov was arrested as a suspect under Article 188.2 of the Criminal Code.” Sabail District Court issued a 3-month detention order for Orujov during the investigation period. The investigative journalist is facing allegations of constructing a house illegally on state-owned land. It’s noteworthy that numerous houses were built in the same area without any claims against their owners. Although the land in question belongs to the state, the complaint against the journalist was filed by 11 individuals unrelated to this particular plot of land. Official reports indicate that there are over 500 thousand illegal buildings in the country.
Aziz Orujov‘s brother, Anar Orujov, shared on social media the emotional scene when Aziz was taken away, mentioning that Aziz‘s one-year-old daughter, Almaz, clung to him and did not want him to go. The photograph of them posted on social media stirred both outrage for his illegal arrest and sympathy for Aziz Orujov. This is Azizov’s second arrest. He has previously endured years as a political prisoner.
The appeals of journalists Sevinj Vagifgizi and Ulvi Hasanli were dismissed. On November 28, the Baku Court of Appeal reviewed the complaints concerning the search of the residence of Ulvi Hasanli, the director of “Abzas Media,” and its editor-in-chief, Sevinj Vagifgizi. The court rejected the complaints filed by both journalists.
The attempt by Orkhan Hajili, the Musavat Party chairman’s son, to reach a reconciliation with the person involved in the case filed against him has been prevented, according to his lawyer. The Court of Appeal refused to grant house arrest for Orkhan Hajili. According to the lawyer, reconciliation between the parties is not hindered. Orkhan Hajili asserts that his arrest is linked to the political involvement of his father, Arif Hajili. Many opposition figures and human rights defenders belive that Hajili’s arrest has no legal base and is a political order that was carried out in order to exert pressure on his father, Arif Hajili, the chairperson of the Musavat Party.
Activist Afieddin Mammadov’s complaint was reviewed by the Court of Appeal and the court affirmed the validity of the arrest warrant. The activist received 4 months of preliminary arrest. He has been repeatedly subjected to administrative arrests.
Another political critic, Rza Safarsoy, who was recently detained by the police, faced charges of illegal possession of weapons.
Murad Abdullayev, a religious activist, received a three-year prison sentence on drug charges from the Baku Court of Serious Crimes.
The Chairperson of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli, shared on his Facebook page that he attended the court proceedings of detained journalists. Karimli expressed concern, stating that the pace of developments in Azerbaijan “is aligning too closely with Central Asian standards.” He emphasized the challenge of participating in the trials of every political prisoner. As the number of political prisoners grows significantly. Karimli wrote: We went to the court together with our friends from APFP. The trial was held behind closed doors and we were barred from entering the hall. However, following the trial, I addressed the repressive measures taken against Orkhan Hajili. On the same day, aside from Ulvi Hasanli and Sevinj Vagifqizi, the Court of Appeal also heard the appeal of Orkhan Hajili, Musavat Party leader Arif Hajili’s son, with the arrest warrant, unfortunately, remaining in force.”
Elnur Hasanov, a member of the APFP Narimanov district branch, has been missing for days, reportedly abducted by police in plain clothes. Subsequently, he was charged with drug-related offenses. Hasanov faces charges under Article 234.4.3 of the Criminal Code, specifically for obtaining and possessing a large quantity of drugs for sale. The activist had recently posted on his Facebook page, criticizing the police, particularly targeting the activities of the traffic police and sharing a photo of General Ramiz Zeynalov, the head of the Chief State Traffic Police Department. It is presumed that his arrest is connected to these criticisms.
One of the trials related to the mass torture of soldiers and officers in Tartar in 2017 has concluded. On November 29, at the Sumgayit Court Complex, four individuals accused of torture were sentenced. As per the verdict from the Baku Military Court, Colonel-Lieutenant Vusal Alasgarov, the commander of a military unit in Tartar, and the chief of staff of the same unit, Colonel Rashid Niftaliyev, were each sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in prison. Additionally, two intelligence servicemen were also tried, with Ramil Garayev receiving the same sentence of 5 years and 6 months, while Rustam Alasgarov was sentenced to 9 years and 6 months in prison. Both the accused and the victims expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict.
Governance and Corruption
The US State Department has responded to the accusations made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan (MFA) concerning the US Agency for International Development (USAID). According to information from “Turan,” the State Department clarified that USAID is dedicated to promoting democratic values with the aim of fostering free and peaceful societies. The State Department refuted the accusations, stating, “Such claims about USAID aid projects are false and fundamentally misrepresent the purpose of our assistance. Our support is always transparent, and all USAID programs are geared towards promoting democratic values for free and peaceful societies.” Additionally, the US State Department expressed concern over the recent arrest of four independent journalists in Azerbaijan within a week.
Jamil Hasanli, Chairman of the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), discussed US-Azerbaijani relations and the arrest of journalists with Meydan TV. Professor Hasanli asserted that the Azerbaijani government treats its citizens as commodities for trade. While the government was once proud of its collaboration with the US, it has now distanced itself from the Washington-led peace talks, aligning more closely with Russia. Hasanli labeled Aliyev and Putin as strategic allies in this regard.
In response to the recent categorization of individuals who studied in the US as agents, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli remarked that, following this logic, President Aliyev could be considered a spy of Turkmenistan, with his policies serving as evidence. Mukhtarli: Ilham Aliyev is an honorary doctor of the Magtymguly University in Turkmenistan. Now it is clear to you why Azerbaijan is rapidly turning into Turkmenistan. When you are an agent, you should be a good one. Not like those US agents. They have been agents for 30 years, but they could not turn Azerbaijan into the US.”
Lawyer Agil Layic also commented on the allegations against the USAID saying that, in fact, the organization had provided significant financial aid to the state bodies and institutes throughout its activities in Azerbaijan. “USAID is now considered an enemy, but looking at its history, it is clear that USAID has provided financial assistance to Azerbaijan since 1991. The total amount of aid provided is 431 million US dollars. Almost most of the amount was given to the state. Aid was provided mainly for humanitarian programs, such as disease control, road infrastructure, gender equality, transparency, and disabled people. Even now, despite the fact that so much aid goes to these projects, despite the fact that aid is allocated mainly to government agencies, the ongoing spy hunt is just nonsense…”
December 1, 2023