PRAGUE. May 28, 2015 (OCCRP.ORG): A company close to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family likely walked off with more than US$ 1 billion in a takeover of his country’s stake in Azercell Telecom, the largest mobile operator in the country. The process was aided by a subsidiary of TeliaSonera, the Swedish-Finnish telecom giant, which acted against its own interest to allow the deal to happen.
TeliaSonera, which owns a majority share of Azercell, facilitated and financed the takeover and agreed to dilute its own ownership stake and turn down dividends in order to placate the government of Azerbaijan. In exchange, Azercell would receive all required regulatory approvals and licenses necessary to operate in Azerbaijan, according to internal documents from an early version of the deal. A former financial investigator who reviewed the findings called it possibly the largest bribery in Swedish history.
Reporters from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Swedish Television’s program “Uppdrag Granskning” (“Mission Investigate”) and the Swedish News Agency TT spent three months examining hundreds of pages of business records, annual reports and internal documents related to the deal. Swiss Radio and Television (SRF) and the Turkish daily Hurriyet contributed to the reporting.
The analysis uncovered a scheme to transfer the states shares of the profitable mobile carrier into the hands of a “local partner” with numerous links to the ruling Aliyev family. In addition, TeliaSonera and its partners down played and obscured what was really going on in its documents and its public statements at the time were often misleading.
WASHINGTON DC. May 27, 2015: Several lawmakers caught up in an investigation of their participation in a lavish overseas trip introduced legislation that would benefit the alleged host of their spring 2013 junket – the state-owned Azerbaijani oil company. Additionally, these lawmakers — and others on the trip — have received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from a network of individuals with close ties to two nonprofit organizations to which the oil company allegedly funneled money to pay for the trip.
The official actions of the lawmakers to encourage energy development in the Caspian Sea and the clusters of contributions from people linked to the nonprofits that facilitated the trip have not been previously reported. The trip itself has been scrutinized by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which found that the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to the two nonprofits to pay for the 10 lawmakers to attend a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, at which the development of natural gas pipelines through the Caucasus region and Turkey were discussed, according to the Washington Post. Earlier reports on the trip said it was paid for by two Texas nonprofits closely affiliated with followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians and the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ).
A representative of SOCAR confirmed to OpenSecrets Blog that his company provided the money to AFAZ. According to a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing from 2014, AFAZ was working on behalf of SOCAR. Travel disclosures by the lawmakers who went to Baku indicate the travel and other costs were paid by the Turquoise Council or one of several Turkic-American groups with close ties to the Council.
BAKU. May 25, 2015: A fire that killed 15 people and destroyed an apartment block in the Azerbaijani capital Baku has raised fears about building standards, as the city undergoes a makeover ahead of next month’s European Games.
Although the fire service was swiftly on the scene when the 16-storey block caught fire on May 19, officers could not check the flames as the plastic cladding on the building’s exterior burned uncontrollably over four hours. Four of the 16 residents who died were young children. Fifty others were injured, and most were later said to be in serious condition.
“When I came to in the evening, a doctor told me I had lost two children – three-year-old Farah and my unborn baby,” Gunay Maharramova told the Minval.az news service. “Then I stopped feeling the aching pain of the wounds I received in the fire, and a new fire started inside me that no one and nothing can ever put out.”
The government swiftly set up a commission to look into the tragedy, and President Ilham Aliev chaired its first meeting on May 20. Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov, appointed to head the commission, said residents of the gutted apartment block in Baku’s Binagadi district would be given temporary accommodation and 20,000 manats (19,500 US dollars) per household in compensation, while families who lost members would get another 15,000 manats each.
Sharifov indicated that building and safety standards had not been observed, and Prosecutor General Zakir Qaralov pointed to the exterior plastic cladding, saying it had not been checked or certified.
WASHINGTON. May 21, 2015: Washington decided to hold off on carrying a bilateral dialogue over civil society and democracy with the Azerbaijani officials, TURAN’s U.S. correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu was informed by the diplomatic sources.
State Department official Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, was planning to visit Baku early last week to focus on current challenges between the two countries in a wave of an ongoing crackdown against civil society and western institutions in Azerbaijan.
The trip, however, got cancelled at the last moment, according to the diplomatic sources, leading to rumors that the Azerbaijani side prevented it. Baku previously snubbed another top U.S. government delegation’s trip prior to 2013 presidential election,which was supposed to be lead by then DAS Thomas Melia on democracy and human rights.
Speaking to TURAN’s Washington correspondent on Wednesday, May 20 a State Department Official ruled out the possibility ofAzeri cancellation of Malinowski trip.
“It’s not correct that the Azerbaijan government prevented a trip,” State Department Officials noted. “While the US and Azerbaijan agreed to hold such a dialogue during [Assistant Secretary] Toria Nuland’s February visit to Baku, we simply don’t believe that such a dialogue would be productive right now given the current climate. That’s our judgment, and our decision.”
Although the agreement on creation of a bilateral U.S.-Azerbaijani dialogue was announced in February, it yet remained unclear whether Azeris, or the U.S. side initiated the idea.
WASHINGTON. May 19, 2015: The government of Azerbaijan is pursuing two big, interrelated campaigns. One of them is a relentless domestic effort against any independent voices who criticize the regime. The other is an international campaign to convince audiences beyond the country’s borders that no real crackdown is taking place or, if it is, that it should not be taken all that seriously.
The domestic campaign has gathered steam in advance of the first ever European Games that will open in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, on June 12th. Civil society activists and news media have felt the brunt of the deepening repression. The international campaign takes the form of massive investments aimed at shaping elite opinion and decision making in key Western capitals, including Washington and Brussels.
A spotlight was shined on these issues at a recent discussion held in Washington titled “Azerbaijan: A Test Case for Democratic Solidarity.” Kennan Aliyev, director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL’s) Azerbaijani Service, observed that in an already repressive media environment the government in Baku is doing “everything it can” to disrupt independent media. He noted the use of raids and various forms of pressure against a growing number of individuals and organizations that support transparency, accountability, and democratic development in the country; the jailing of award-winning journalist Khadija Ismayilova in December 2014 drew particular international attention. She remains imprisoned, her pre-trial detention having been recently extended by another three months.
BAKU. May 19, 2015: A police officer and a fire fighter help child victim of an apartment building fire in Baku, Azerbaijan, Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Azerbaijani officials say 16 people have died and more than 50 have been injured in a fire at an apartment building in Baku, the capital. The massive fire quickly engulfed 16-story apartment building Tuesday and took hours to contain. Azerbaijan's chief prosecutor, Zakir Garalov, said the bad quality of plastic paneling covering the building contributed to the fire and a criminal probe has been launched to determine the culprits. (AP Photo/Orxan Azim)
WASHINGTON, May 14, 2015: According to the Washington Post, the Office of Congressional Ethics has discovered that a state-owned Azerbaijani energy company used nonprofit proxies to fund a trip by 10 members of the House of Representatives to a 2013 conference in Azerbaijan. Such foreign-funded travel would appear to violate the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act; per the Post, however, there is no evidence any of the legislators who took the trip knew that the two Houston-based nonprofits that funded it were actually fronts for Azerbaijani government interests.
The independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which was launched in 2008 to conduct investigations, has given its report on the matter to the House Committee on Ethics. The House Committee on Ethics can recommend sanctions against House members (which would then be voted on by the full House) and can also refer incidents of potential illegality to state and federal authorities.
The Azerbaijani energy company involved is known as SOCAR, and its presumed motive for wining and dining United States figures, per the Post, is to ensure that a gas pipeline on which both SOCAR and an Iranian company are working continues to win exemptions from American sanctions against Iran. Such exemptions allow companies involved with the pipeline to continue to do business in the United States and have been granted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on multiple occasions. (Travel-funding shenanigans aside, the pipeline is considered beneficial to American interests “because it would bolster European security by offering an alternative to Russian gas,” the Post writes.)
In February Ismayilova was fined 2,500 manat (about $2,500 -ed.) for defamation of former opposition leader Elman Hasanov. The decision to postpone her appeal comes as she enters her six month in pretrial detention over a number of separate charges, dismissed as spurious and trumped up by international human rights organisations.
“The continued judicial harassment of Khadija Ismayilova by Azerbaijani authorities is cruel and unjust,” said Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “As Azerbaijan prepares to host this summer’s inaugural European Games, it is worth remembering that the treatment of Ismayilova flies in the face of the principles of press freedom and human dignity enshrined in the Olympic Charter.”
Ismayilova was arrested on December 5 on charges of inciting suicide and given two months in pretrial detention, which has since been extended twice, last in early March. The initial charge has in recent weeks been further discredited by the backtracking of the accuser, Tural Mustafayev.
In April Mustafayev said in a radio interview that he no longer stands by the letter he wrote in November 2014, accusing Ismayilova of inciting him to suicide, and that he had written to the head public prosecutor to retract his complaint. He says he had first tried in December to withdraw the complaint. Then in May, he accused the city prosecutor’s office in Baku of using his suicide attempt as an opportunity to target Ismayilova.
NEW YORK. May 9, 2015: Khadija Ismayilova, a jailed Azerbaijani investigative journalist the journalist of the local Azerbaijani office of the Radio Liberty, crowned her journalistic achievements on May 5 by winning a prestigious media freedom award from the PEN American Center. Chants of "Khadija, Khadija" erupted from the more than 800 guests gathered at a gala awards dinner in New York as top names in the journalism world moved to recognize Ismayilova's bravery and persistence in exposing corruption at the highest levels of power in Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani government have subjected Khadija Ismayilova to detention, legal harassment and character assassination. In December, she was arrested on the contrived charge that she had incited a colleague to suicide and she remains in pre-trial detention.
Not coincidentally, Ismayilova’s imprisonment coincides with the European Games, an Olympic-organized event to be held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in June. PEN presented Ismayilova with its PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award (for a writer imprisoned or persecuted for his or her work), last night, and commissioned the following cartoons speaking to her situation.
Living outside Washington, D.C. along with his family, Yunus says, he often visits the neighboring city Baltimore which reminds him of Baku — the city where he grew up.
Yunus, a former chief of staff of the Azerbaijani government and Parliament, was forced out of his country in 2003 due to political shift that he was strongly opposing, and got an asylum in the U.S. years ago.
Most of his family members though were persecuted since then for political reasons; and the government is still punishing some. Most recently, his brother Arif Yunus and Arif’s wife Leila Yunus, both leading rights activists in the country, have also been arrested, facing charges of fraud and treason that supporters say are used as a punishment for their long years of activism and regional peace efforts.
BAKU. May 1, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): Requirements for Azerbaijani nationals, permanently living and working abroad to register at the local consulates and embassies now extends to temporary residence holders as well.
All Azerbaijani citizens must register at the local consulates within a month of their arrival to a foreign country.
Relevant information will be sent to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection as well as the State Migration Service twice a year – in March and September. This new amendment was added to the laws on "Citizenship” and on "Leaving, Returning and Passport”.
“The downside of this requirement is that Azerbaijani government will keep taps on all its citizens living and working abroad. It is going to be easy to locate those critical of the government. This law is part of the government’s attempt to keep its nationals under control”, says Asima Nasirli, lawyer focused on migration issues.
WASHINGTON. April 30, 2015: As the U.S. legislators discuss the first submissions of evidence of human rights abuses relevant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability act, the authors of the bill urge “bad guys” all around the world, including Azerbaijan, to “be accountable and stop violating human rights.”
“Magnitsky act was never anti-Russia, it was anti-bad guys in Russia and makes sense globally,” says Congressman Jim McGovern, Co-sponsor of the bill.
Speaking to TURAN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu on Wednesday, April 29, Congressman McGovern said, current debates over the Global Magnitsky bill are “an indication that the U.S. and hopefully other countries around the world are making human rights a more central part of their foreign policy.”
Human rights abusers all over the world“should be worried that people are demanding they’d be held into account,” he said.
Asked whether Azerbaijani officials will be directly targeted by the global act, he said, the billwould target corrupt officials and perpetrators of human rights abuses all around the world and begin to hold them to account.
“All too often, [the rights abusers] act with impunity.. We’re talking about how we stand up to human rights abusers and people who are guilty for corruption... Not just in Russia but all around the world,” he said.
BAKU. April 29, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): April 28, during the hearing against a decision of Binagadi Court to fine the journalist for libel investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova said her cell was searched following the last three letters she sent from jail. The head of the detention center Azer Seyidov summoned Ismayilova two days prior to the trial and accused the journalist of slander. Ismayilova said Seyidov told her that the only reason she is not placed in solitary confinement this time is because of the approaching European Games. She was warned however that the next time this happens; she won’t be allowed to speak with her family on the phone nor meet them.
Unlike the previous hearing, Ismayilova was placed into a cage rather than a tank. Despite lawyer’s protest to sit Ismayilova next to her lawyers she was kept inside the cage with heavy security guarding the cage.
The guards attempted at looking at the document Ismayilova’s lawyer Yalchin Imanov handed to her during the hearing. They also tried to intervene when Ismayilova wanted to speak with her lawyers during the break.
BAKU. April 29, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): Over the past years FIDH ( the International Federation for Human Rights - ed.) increased its work on the situation of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. The focus intensified especially in the aftermath of crackdown of last summer. Azadliq Radiosu spoke to Hugo Gabbero on FIDH’s recent visit to Azerbaijan and the organization’s evaluation of the human rights defenders situation in the country.
Hugo Gabbero: What we witnessed since the wave of repression in the summer of 2014 is that authorities strive to suffocate the last space of freedom and are progressively transforming the country into a giant prison for human rights defenders. So it is in the light of this situation that we (FIDH) decided last January (2015) to travel to Baku (January 4-8), to try and visit the human rights defenders in prison and to establish a dialogue with the authorities of Azerbaijan.
WASHINGTON. April 29, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): Freedom House says restrictive new laws and violence against journalists resulted in a global decline of press freedom during 2014, bringing the world's press freedom to its lowest point in more than 10 years.
In a report released on April 29, the U.S.-based watchdog said press freedom declined significantly in 18 countries and territories during 2014 -- with some of the worst declines in Azerbaijan, Serbia, and Iraq.
Freedom House said Belarus, Russian-annexed Crimea, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were among the world's 10 worst-rated countries and territories for press freedom.
It said the worst in the Balkans was Macedonia, where press freedom has continued to decline during the past five years.
The report says Azerbaijan's government was one of the worst offenders for using detentions and closures of media offices under security or emergency laws, with nine journalists in prison by December 1.
BAKU. April 23, 2015: Jailed opposition activist Tofig Yagublu's daughter died yesterday. Nargiz Yagublu, also opposition activist, suffered from the Hepatitis C and died in the hospital in Tomsk, Russia while delivering her baby. Tofig Yagublu, deputy chairman of Musavat, serving a lengthy prison term for the riot instigation charges, will be allowed to visit the funeral of his daughter. Today, Tofig Yagublu's lawyers informed the local media that Yagublu will be released from jail for seven days starting from tomorrow.
WASHINGTON. April 23, 2015: The crackdown on human rights in Azerbaijan has intensified with a string of trials that have targeted prominent civil society activists and journalists.
The sentencing of the prominent human rights lawyer to a lengthy prison term on Wednesday was the latest action taken by the authorities in what is widely seen as a part of repressive policies designed to suppress independent voices in Azerbaijan, analysts say.
Intigam Aliyev, the leader of the Legal Education Society, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on charges of tax evasion, engagement in illegal business and abuse of authority. His sentencing comes less than a week after another prominent human rights activist was sentenced to six and a half years in jail.
At his sentencing, Aliyev called the criminal charges against him to be politically motivated.
“The arrests can deprive us of our freedom, but they cannot take away our will to freedom,” Aliyev said in an emotional speech.
BAKU. April 22, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): April 22, Grave Crimes Court in Baku sentenced prominent human rights defender Intigam Aliyev to seven and half years. He was found guilty of tax evasion, abuse of authority, illegal enterpreneurship, and appropriation.
In his final statement Aliyev said, "In this country it is a crime to have an alternative opinion, to talk about election fraud, and discuss issues of political prisoners on an international level. Yes, I confess that I was engaged in many of these criminal activities and as a result damaged the government's reputation heavily. In this case, the request to jail me for ten years doesn't sound like a heavy sentence."
Intigam Aliyev sent over 200 cases to the European Court of Human Rights, most if not all were cases of political rights violations.
BAKU. April 22, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): Azerbaijan’s incumbent President Aliyev’s new proposal to the National Parliament is stirring discontent. In his new proposal, President says citizens of Azerbaijan who have secretly taken a new citizenship and failed to inform Azerbaijan’s consular services will be penalised.
Fines ranging from 3thousand to 5thousand manats and public work between 360 to 480 hours will be used against the instigators.
However, some in Azerbaijan consider the proposal as lacking legal base. Muzaffer Bakhishov, lawyer, says the new proposal is meant to prevent those Azerbaijani nationals the government doesn’t like from returning to the country. “In case someone doesn’t provide information on his/her new citizenship, this person is going to be liable to criminal penalty. Upon this person’s return to Azerbaijan, he/she will be criminally liable.”
BAKU. April 22, 2015: Yesterday, the Appellate Court of Baku held a preliminary hearing in the case of the jailed Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova. The hearing was held not on the main charges against the imprisoned Azeri journalist, but on the civil claims of a person called Elman Turkoglu who claimed Khadija Ismayilova slandered him through a Facebook posting. The trial court had fined Khadija Ismayilova for an unusually high amount of 2500 manat (about $2500), Ismayilova appealed while in jail under other criminal charges brought by the Attorney General. Yesterday's hearing at the Appellate Court had a strange format. Khadija Ismayilova was placed in a soundproof glass cage to ensure that she would not be able to utter a word during the hearing.
The local media representatives referred to this glass cage as 'aquarium'. The "aquarium" was additionally reinforced by special guards who were present throughout the hearing. When Khadija Ismayilova's lawyers requested that the judge ordered to release her from that cage and allow her to sit together with her lawyers, the judge meekly suggested that they asked the permission of the guards of the glass cage. Ismayilova's lawyers pointed out that the "aquarium" was soundproof and that they could not communicate with gestures and that they should be able to confer with their client.
When the judge said Ismayilova's lawyers should ask for the permission of the guards who were guarding Ismayilova's isolation in the glass cage, Ismayilova's lawyers reminded the judge that the hearing should be presided by the judge and not the prison guards.
The judge then requested permission from the guards to allow Khadija Ismayilova to sit together with her lawyers and the guards refused to allow that.
KURDAMIR. April 20, 2015. "Avoiding Kurdakhani lands you in Kurdamir", says an ancient Azerbaijani proverb... Well, maybe not. But there surely could be such a proverb, given the recent sightseeing trips of the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Robert Cekuta.
A post on the US Embassy's Facebook profile from Feb 11 asked the Azerbaijani followers to vote on the site that the newly appointed Ambassador Cekuta should see first in Azerbaijan. As we previously reported, the great majority of respondents asked the US Ambassador to go to a place called "KURDAkhani". The Ambassador has not made to Kurdakhani yet, but he already visited a region called "KURDAmir".
The difference between the two places, in spite of the similarity of names, cannot be any bigger. One is an infamous jail, where many of Azerbaijan's hundred or so political prisoners are locked up. The other is an arid region where the showcase military air-base, a symbol of the regime's cooperation with the West, is located. But, most importantly, Kurdakhani is where the ordinary Azerbaijanis, representatives of the civil society asked the new US Ambassador to visit. Kurdamir air-base, on the other hand, is a type of place where the corrupt local dictator Ilham Aliyev would rather see Mr. Cekuta spend all his time in Azerbaijan. And it is Mr. Aliyev, not his people, who seems, so far, to have the friendly ears of the US Administration.
WASHINGTON. April 17, 2015: Yesterday, the US State Department issued yet another statement expressing concerns over the Azerbaijani government's ongoing crackdown on the civil society. This statement was issued in response to the sentencing of the Azerbaijani civil rights activist Rasul Jafarov to six and a half years in jail. Below is the full text of the statement:.
We are deeply troubled by the April 16 decision of an Azerbaijani court to sentence prominent human rights activist Rasul Jafarov to a six and a half - year prison term on charges widely considered to be politically motivated. A founder and chairman of the Human Rights Club, Jafarov was arrested last August as part of a broad crackdown on human rights activists. His conviction is a further setback to Azerbaijan’s democratic development. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to abide by its international commitments and respect the rights of its citizens. As a first step, we urge the authorities to release Mr. Jafarov and others incarcerated in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms. Doing so would strengthen the country’s long-term stability and our bilateral relationship.(Azeri Report)
BRUSSELS. April 17, 2015: The European Union issued a brief statement expressing concerns over the recent sentencing of the Azerbaijani civil rights activist Rasul Jafarov to six years and a half in jail. Below is the full text of the statement:
"The six and a half year custodial sentence imposed by an Azerbaijan court on Mr Rasul Jafarov, a well-known human rights defender and respected partner of international donors, appears harsh and disproportionate to the alleged offences on which it is based. Procedural shortcomings, witnessed by international monitors during the trial of Mr Jafarov, raise concerns about due legal processes.
The EU calls on Azerbaijan to abide by its international commitments and to establish greater trust in the independence and professionalism of its judicial system. We look to the authorities in Azerbaijan to ensure that Rasul Jafarov is given the opportunity to appeal this verdict in a fair and unbiased process."
OSLO. April 16, 2015 (Humanrightshouse.org): Rasul Jafarov is a lawyer and human rights activist. He founded the organisation Human Rights Club and has been internationally known through the “Sing for Democracy” campaign, launched to draw attention to the human rights situation in Azerbaijan when the country hosted the 2012 Eurovision contest.
On 2 August 2014, he was arrested and sentenced to three-months pre-trial detention. He was then accused of illegal entrepreneurship, evasion of payment of taxes, abuse of professional power, misappropriation of other’s property and fabrication of documents. Jafarov was arrested during an unprecedented crackdown on human rights in Azerbaijan and many other prominent human rights defenders were also arrested, including Intigam Aliyev, Leyla and Arif Yunus, Anar Mammadli and later the investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova.
“The authorities of Azerbaijan has now come to an absolute low point of the regressive trend we have seen over the past years. We expect governments, international organisations and corporate businesses that have relations with the Azerbaijani government to hold Azerbaijan accountable and react firmly. Profound actions and sanctions must be taken as a response to Azerbaijan’s severe crackdown on independent civil society and human rights defenders – and to Azerbaijan’s total disrespect of international agreements and responsibilities.”, urges Dahle.
VIENNA. April 16, 2015 (OSCE.org): OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović today condemned the sentencing of Rasul Jafarov, a free expression and free media advocate and human rights defender in Azerbaijan, to six and a half years in a penal colony.
“Jafarov’s sentencing is nothing short of an act of injustice and it adds to the growing number of journalists and free expression advocates serving time in Azerbaijani prisons for their work,” Mijatović said. “This systematic and wide-scale persecution of independent voices in Azerbaijan is a clear violation of the fundamental and basic human right of freedom of expression.”
On 16 April, the Baku Court on Grave Crimes found Jafarov guilty on charges of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, abuse of power and forgery committed by a civil servant and sentenced him to six and a half years in a penal colony. Jafarov denies all the allegations.
Mijatović noted various reports indicating that both the investigation and the judicial process involving Jafarov were flawed because of serious violations. Reportedly, all prosecution witnesses during the court hearing testified in favour of Jafarov.
OSLO. April 15, 2015: The official website of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) reported that at yesterday’s meeting of the EITI Board Azerbaijan was downgraded to candidate’ country following a Validation report carried out earlier this year. Validation is the EITI’s independent evaluation mechanism and Azerbaijan is the first country to be validated against the 2013 EITI Standard. The EITI is a coalition of governments, companies, civil society groups, investors and international organizations. 48 countries are now implementing the EITI Standard, and recognized as either EITI compliant or EITI candidate.
WASHINGTON. April 14, 2015: A group of experts and former officials have addressed a joint letter to U.S Secretary of State John Kerry with regard to the deteriorating state of human rights in Azerbaijan. The signatories call for sanctions against Azerbaijan's top leadership in response to the severe crackdown on the civil society and the independent media in Azerbaijan. Below is the full text of the letter:
Human Rights in Azerbaijan: A Joint Letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
Dear Secretary Kerry:
We are alarmed by the deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Arrests and detentions of journalists, civil society and human rights activists, religious believers, and opposition figures have multiplied; Azerbaijan now has twice as many political prisoners as Russia and Belarus combined. The government has targeted domestic and foreign NGOs and raided the office of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Senior government officials have engaged in an ugly anti-Western campaign. All of this raises serious concerns about the future of U.S.-Azerbaijani relations and doubts about the government of Azerbaijan’s commitment to comply with its international obligations as signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Open Government Partnership as well as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and its membership in the OSCE and Council of Europe. Attached please find an Open Letter detailing our concerns and steps that should be taken to address the situation, signed by 45 activists, experts, organizations, and former officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
The formation of a new bilateral commission on civil society, we believe, does not justify further delay in responding to the Azerbaijani government’s abysmal treatment of its own people. Official expressions of concern about the human rights situation over the last many months have not yielded results, and there is no reason to think the commission will change that trajectory unless it is paired with penalties for ongoing human rights abuses. Thus, the U.S. should:
Impose a visa ban and asset freeze on senior Azerbaijani government officials responsible for and involved in gross human rights abuses.
Block trade promotion assistance—Export-Import Bank and OPIC support—to Azerbaijani state-owned entities.
WASHINGTON. April 14, 2015: Human Rights groups and former diplomats call for action on Azerbaijan due to the increasing crackdown on the civil society. In a recently launched campaign to draw attention to the human rights violations of the Aliyev regime, a group of experts and former officials have also addressed a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Click here to read the letter This appeal, joined by human rights groups and former diplomats detail the human rights violations in Azerbaijan and calls on the Western governments and parliaments to impose sanctions on the individual members of the Aliyev regime implicated in the human rights violations in Azerbaijan. Below is the full text of the appeal:
Open Letter Regarding the Human rigths Situation in Azerbaijan
We the undersigned are alarmed by the deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Arrests and detentions of journalists, civil society and human rights activists, religious believers, and opposition figures have multiplied; Azerbaijan now has twice as many political prisoners as Russia and Belarus combined. The government has targeted domestic and foreign NGOs, freezing their bank accounts and effectively paralyzing them. Senior government officials have engaged in an ugly anti-Western campaign. Corruption is a huge problem and inhibits the country’s ability to flourish economically and politically. The December 26 raid on the office of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a publicly funded news organization that reaches countries in the former Soviet Union and beyond, represents a direct challenge to the principles of freedom of speech. Through these actions and statements, the government of Azerbaijan has openly rejected its international obligations as signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Open Government Partnership as well as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and as a member of the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
BAKU. April 13, 2015: Ramiz Mehdiyev, chief of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, appeared in public for the first time in four months after his mysterious disappearance. It was rumored that Ramiz Mehdiyev was incapacitated by a serious illness. Ramiz Mehdiyev appeared in the Cabinet meeting of the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev on April 10. Ramiz Mehdiyev is known as the grey cardinal of the Azerbaijani government, the most influential political figure in the Azerbaijani government. 77-year-old Ramiz Mehdiyev served in the position of the chief of the Presidential Administration both under the president Heydar Aliyev and later his son Ilham Aliyev since 1995.