Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev is violating democratic rights, criminalizing dissent and consolidating authoritarian rule, according to a report released today.
History student Jabbar Savalan was inspired by the democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt, CNN reports:
A 19-year-old in oil-rich Azerbaijan, he did what many activists in the Arab world were doing: He got online, posting a call on Facebook for a “Day of Rage” against the authoritarian government of the former Soviet republic. The next day, February 5, he was arrested, handcuffed and forced into a police vehicle without being informed of his rights, according to Amnesty International. He has been in custody ever since.
He is one of at least 17 “prisoners of conscience” held in the ex-Soviet, energy-rich state, according to “The Spring That Never Blossomed: Freedoms Suppressed in Azerbaijan.”
The report details a wave of intimidation and detentions, and relentless suppression of independent media, civil society groups and opposition parties.
“Azerbaijan has achieved the bones but not the meat of a democracy. Opposition is allowed to exist but not to function,” said John Dulhuisen, the deputy director of the group’s Europe and Central Asia program.
On November 5, internationally-renowned scientist Professor Rafik Aliyev (right) was dismissed from his senior post at the Azerbaijan Oil Academy after 53 years of service, 22 years of which was spent as head of the department he established.
Purportedly sacked for “neglect of duties,” it is widely believed that he was targeted for criticizing the imprisonment of a pro-democracy activist and related political activities. As a member of a forum of intellectuals formed two years ago, Aliyev helped draft a manifesto designed to develop a national consensus on constitutional and electoral reform, and called for dialogue between government and society.
“In recent years, the government has consolidated its authoritarian rule and control of public life by adopting a wide range of laws and stepping up measures to harass and intimidate those, still a small minority, who dare to voice critical views,” the report states.
The government has banned protests, used excessive force against demonstrators, curtailed media freedoms, harassed human rights defenders and persecuted pro-democracy bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada.
Earlier this year, the authorities demolished the Baku offices of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, a leading rights and democracy group, in an apparent reprisal for Western media coverage highlighting the group’s anti-corruption campaigns. The building, an “activist hub”, was home to the Institute for Peace and Democracy as well as an anti-landmine group and a women’s crisis centre.
The authorities in Baku must act urgently to protect freedom of expression, while the international community should not turn a blind eye to rights violations, the rights watchdog insists.
“The clampdown has sent out a clear and calculated message — that public expression of dissent will not be tolerated, nor will be any attempt to galvanize public opinion against the current regime,” said Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty’s Azerbaijan researcher.
The report notes that “20 years of independence, economic prosperity and relative stability have failed to translate into greater fundamental freedoms for its citizens.”
“Consolidation of authoritarian rule over the last decade has been largely ignored by the outside world,” it added.
The Institute for Peace and Democracy is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.