“Please Give Us More Time to Imprison and Kill Our Political Opponents…”
By Ganimat Zahid
BAKU. March 27, 2015: Life is not easy for the people of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s prisons are full of political prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people are practically expelled out of their country. The remaining people have removed themselves from the political life in the country fearing death, prison, or exile.
Another dimension of the problem is that there is an ongoing debate on how to treat the governments which are engaged in massive human rights violations. Some would consider a more cautious approach to avoid isolating such countries with sanctions, fearing that isolation would only harden those regimes and that the only available avenue to improve the situation is to somehow engage the predatory governments of these countries and hope that political reforms carried out by these governments would somehow ease the grips of their authoritarian rule.
The Azerbaijani government’s lobbyists actually use this line of reasoning in order to defend the Aliyev regime.
The passage above is a basic-plan propaganda argument of an average lobbyist for the Aliyev regime in the US or any Western European country. Another “argument” is added for the behind-the-closed-doors meetings with the western government officials. That the Azerbaijani government is not homogenous, that there is an ongoing struggle between the pro-Russian and pro-Western factions within the Azerbaijani government and that any human rights criticisms from the West undermines the positions of the so-called pro-Western faction of the Azerbaijani government and strengthens the dreaded “pro-Russian” faction.
BAKU. March 26, 2015: A daughter of jailed Azerbaijani dissidents, Dinara Yunus, is among the growing choir of Azerbaijan’s critics who are using the upcoming “European Olympics” to draw attention to reported repressions in the Caspian-Sea country.
“My parents dedicated 30 years of their lives to human rights. Now they are in different cells in different prisons because they dared to speak out,” Yunus says in a recent YouTube video. Released by the UK human rights group Amnesty International, the video mixes her monologue with footage of the large-scale preparations in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, for the European Games this June.
“Mr. President [Ilham Aliyev], can you tell me why my mother is in prison after she was critical of the upcoming European games?” Yunus asks in the tape.
Dinara’s mother, prominent human-rights activist Leyla Yunus, is controversially jailed on charges that include tax evasion and spying for the enemy state of Armenia. International democracy-watchdogs scoff at these charges, and those against her husband Arif Yunus and many other activists, as politically motivated.
WASHINGTON. March 24, 2015: Azerbaijan is making itself a welcome home among neighboring states — from Russia to Iran, to the wider Middle East — that deny basic rights to their citizenry and ignore ways democratic states treat their citizens.
Does Ilham Aliyev government care about its image in the West? Until recently it seemed like it did.
For years, the oil-reach Caspian country has been trying to spruce up its image by hosting international events such as Eurovision, Global Internet Forum, OSCE Parliament Assembly summit, as well as the first European Games, due this summer. Aliyev and his team have also been spending a sufficient amount of money for lobby efforts in the U.S. and European capitals.
However, recent moves by the government of Azerbaijan to crack down on western and local organizations as well as restrict the media have caused a very negative effect on the country’s international image and, according to some analysts, also on perceptions of the business climate in Azerbaijan.
WASHINGTON. March 22, 2015: In Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning crime drama “The Departed”, the viewers are presented the prototype of Whitey Bulger, one of the powerful mob bosses in America who was an FBI informant at the same time. Based on a true story, the movie masterfully depicts how Bulger, instead of serving America’s premier law enforcement agency, uses the agency’s vast assets to gain power and wealth. As his recent conviction clearly demonstrates, Bulger never served anyone’s interests but his own, and in doing so, he succeeded in duping the very people who showered favors upon him in vain hopes for reciprocation that never materialized.
As Elin Suleymanov tirelessly works Washington in order to expand the interests of the criminal enterprise otherwise known as the Aliyev regime, one is reminded of Bulger’s path in life. While Mr. Suleymanov professes his love for the United States, and is taken at his word by his happy-go-lucky hosts in Washington, the American interests in the country he represents continue to suffer on an unprecedented scale. Since Mr. Suleymanov assumed his post as the Ambassador of Azerbaijan, nearly all US-based organizations have ceased to function in that country. These organizations include Radio Free Europe, NDI, IREX, Open Society Foundation, and even the Peace Corps.
WASHINGTON. March 18, 2015: Azerbaijan sentenced opposition activist Siraj Karimov to six years in prison Tuesday on drug-related charges.
Karimov and his brother, Faraj Karimov, an outspoken critic of President Ilham Aliyev, were arrested last July for allegedly selling drugs. Faraj Karimov is presently in pretrial detention.
Amnesty International has recognized Siraj and Faraj Kerimov, along with other jailed opponents of Azerbaijan's government, as "prisoners of conscience."
The London-based human rights group said in a report released this month that at least 20 government critics, political activists and journalists are in prison or in detention in oil-rich Azerbaijan, awaiting trial on charges ranging from fraud and embezzlement to abuse of drugs and treason.
They include the prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus.
Arif Yunus' brother, Ramis, told Voice of America that the real number of jailed government critics is much higher. “There are actually in jail more than 100 political prisoners. It is 'Absurdistan,' not Azerbaijan,” he said.
Ramis Yunus, a U.S. citizen, recently sent an open letter to President Barack Obama asking him to help gain the release of his relatives. Arif and Leyla, both in their 60s, “are on the edge of death,” Ramis wrote to Obama. “I hope that the U.S. will not sacrifice my family for the sake of its energy security.”
WASHINGTON. March 17, 2015: Globally-recognised human rights organisations and the international media collectively deemed 2014 a year of unprecedented civil society crackdown in Azerbaijan. Political leaders, youth activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers were jailed on trumped-up charges; media outlets were shut down; and international organisations and donors were forced out of the country. Moreover, stringent laws, criminal investigations, and frozen bank accounts made it impossible for local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to continue their activities.For now, the government enjoys a modest victory, albeit a pyrrhic one.
So far, the Azerbaijani government has managed to silence its Western critics by cooperating with the U.S. and Europe on energy and security issues. However, the government’s recent clampdown has made it difficult to turn a blind eye; and it seems Azerbaijan and the West have reached a critical juncture in their relations.
BAKU. March 15, 2015: Today, the opposition coalition, National Council of Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan, held a protest rally under the slogan "End Robbery". Hundreds of protesters participated in this rally. Speaking at the rally, Jamil Hasanli, the opposition candidate during the last presidential elections of 2013, Ali Karimli, the chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, sharply criticized the Azerbaijani government for widespread corruption and the sudden devaluation of the local currency, which caused an acute economic crisis in Azerbaijan. Below is the video coverage of the event:
BAKU. March 12, 2015: Imrpisoned Azerbaijani Journalist Khadija Ismayilova's new letter from Kurdakhani prison has been posted on her Facebook profile. In her letter from prison, Khadija Ismayilova, the journalist of the Azerbaijani office of the US funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), sharply criticized the "behinds the door diplomacy" of the Western governments, including the recent visit of the US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to Azerbaijan. Khadija Ismayilova wrote that these diplomatic efforts help the Aliyev's dictatorial regime "to silence all critics and create a false show of human rights." Below is the full text of the letter:
"Democracy is America's most powerful weapon for world respect and emulation. How we deal with this crucial situation will determine our moral health as a nation and our prestige as a leader of the free world."
Martin Luther King was describing the urgency of democratization in America by its need to become a strong world power. Maybe it was naive to suggest that democracy would sound more convincing than weapons in this crazy world. Yet here we are in a situation where, after one authoritarian regime in Ukraine was toppled, America tries to overpower another dictatorship in the region--Russia--with the help of small satellite dictatorships like Azerbaijan.
The world is no longer naive enough to turn a blind eye to such playing with moral values. So it is time for arms to speak, and oil and gas to lubricate the machine.
VIENNA, 2 March 2015 (OSCE.org): On the 10th anniversary of the death of Azeri journalist Elmar Huseynov, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović, today called on OSCE participating States to ensure journalists’ safety and the right to freedom of expression.
“On the anniversary of the death of Elmar Huseynov, the issue of journalists’ safety must be raised,” Mijatović said. “Attacks and harassment of journalists in the OSCE region is growing while thorough investigations are scarce, which has a chilling effect on free media.”
Elmar Huseynov, the founder and editor of the independent weekly news magazine Monitor, was shot and killed outside his apartment on 2 March 2005. The magazine had been under constant pressure from authorities for the critical nature of some of the articles published. Huseynov’s killers remain at large.
WASHINGTON. February 28, 2015: As officials in Baku and Washington remain silent over bilateral agreement in their response to ongoing crackdown against civil society and western institution in Azerbaijan, analysts urge the Obama Administration to refrain from action under uncertainty.
The agreement on creation of a bilateral US-Azerbaijani dialogue on civil society and democracy was announced by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland during her trip to Baku early last week.
“We agreed to continue consultations on this [human rights situation and problems of the media] and strengthen them through the US-Azerbaijani dialogue on civil society and democracy. It is about creating a bilateral structure, which will run in parallel with the structures of the Council of Europe," Nuland said following her meeting with President Ilham Aliyev.
It remained unclear though whether the establishment of a new commission was Baku’s initiative, or “State Department is pushing the idea in an ethical and public relations vacuum, unaware of the minefield that it is walking into,” a veteran Eurasia watcher in the US told TURAN’s correspondent speaking on condition of anonymity.
LONDON. February 26, 2015: The British Olympic Association has admitted that organisers of the first European Games in Baku, under attack from human rights groups following a crackdown on freedom of speech, had effectively paid for its team of athletes to compete.
The BOA will send 160 athletes to the inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan in June, three times as many as went to the Sochi Winter Olympics last year. The Team GB chef de mission, Mark England, who will perform the same function at the Olympics in Rio in 2016, said the cost of sending the team would be largely covered by the organisers. “There’s participation grants that we’ve received from the organising committee. The net cost we’re hoping will be neutral for Team GB,” he said.
Preparations for the games, which will feature more than 5,000 athletes in 20 Olympic and non-Olympic sports, have been overshadowed by criticism of Azerbaijan’s ongoing attempt to quell critical voices. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch renewed their criticism of President Ilham Aliyev’s regime in the past week.
BAKU. February 26, 2015: 87-year-old Edile Salimova said police forced her to testify against Gunel Hasanli, the daughter of the opposition candidate during the last presidential elections Jamil Hasanli. Edile Salimova talked to Meydan TV saying the police invited her to the police station and there she was told that if she did not press charges against Gunel Hasanli, "she will be held responsible." Jamil Hasanli has already issued a statement saying the Azerbaijani government used a minor traffic incident to build up a case against her daughter and put her in jail. On February 20, the court quickly passed the verdict convicting Gunel Hasanli to one and a half year of prison time in a correctional labor colony.
Edile Salimova, apparently distressed with the fact that she was used to imprison Gunel Hasanli, said she could not sleep for three days knowing that she was used to imprison an innocent person.
Describing the traffic incident which caused Hasanli's imprisonment, Salimova said on ghe day of the accident she was on her way to a mosque to meet someone who had promised to help her. She felt bad because of her high blood pressure, and she fell down on the road. Salimova said as she was trying to stand up Hasanli who was driving through that road slightly touched her. "When she (G. Hasanli) was driving by, she slightly touched me. She helped me and took me to an x-ray lab to check. It turned out that there were no fractures or injuries," said Salimova.
However, 12 days later, the police contacted Salimova, took her to a medical examination which "established that there was a hematoma on Salimova's left leg caused by a car accident. Gunel Hasanli was then quickly tried and convicted. Jamil Hasanli, famously spoke about the illegal businesses registered under the name of the daughters of the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. Jamil Hasanli said her daugher was intentionally targeted because of his political acticivities, specifically for his anti-corruption statements during the past presidential elections (Azeri Report).
I am writing you to ask why under your watch America’s values and friends are being betrayed in Azerbaijan.
This process has been going on for a while. But it seems to have culminated last week, when Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland traveled to Baku and announced that the US and Azerbaijan plan to create a “joint structure for democracy and human rights”. This announcement might be seen by some as a symbolic final nail driven into the coffin of the US support for democracy in Azerbaijan.
BAKU. February 23, 2015: Azerbaijan’s banks face risks to asset quality after the former Soviet Union’s third-largest oil producer devalued its currency, Moody’s Investors Service warned.
The central bank on Feb. 21 set the manat at 1.05 against the dollar, compared with 0.78 earlier. The move aims to strengthen “international competitiveness,” amid pressure on the the country’s finances from falling oil prices, the regulator said in a statement.
The economy of the former Soviet republic has slowed as oil prices fell 45 percent from last year’s peak while Russia’s plummeting ruble reduced the competitiveness of local industry and pushed peers such as Armenia and Kazakhstan to protect their currencies. Azerbaijan’s move is “credit negative” for banks such as the unit of VTB Bank OJSC and International Bank of Azerbaijan OJSC, Moody’s said in a statement Monday.
The step “pressures banks’ asset quality by weakening borrowers’ ability to repay loans, and inflates the size of banks’ foreign-currency-denominated liabilities,” Maria Malyukova, a Moscow-based analyst at Moody’s, said in an e-mailed report. The “devaluation will prompt customers to shift their manat deposits into foreign currency.”
BRUSSELS. February 23, 2015 (HRW): The European Union special representative for human rights should use his visit to Azerbaijan beginning February 23, 2015, to insist that the authorities release dozens of activists and journalists imprisoned on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, and Front Line Defenders said today.
Stavros Lambrinidis, the special representative, will visit Baku at the invitation of the Azerbaijani government.
“As the EU’s leading voice on human rights, Lambrinidis has a unique opportunity of a Baku visit to insist that the government end its campaign to silence critics and release the dozens of activists and journalists behind bars on bogus charges,” said Mary Lawlor, director at Front Line Defenders. “This is also a crucial moment to make clear that Azerbaijan’s appalling human rights record is an impediment to deeper relations with the EU.”
BAKU. February 20, 2015 (Reuters): An Azeri human rights activist held without trial since July had her detention extended for five months by a court in Baku on Wednesday, her lawyer said, a case critics decry as part of a government-led crackdown on dissent.
Leyla Yunus, the head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy, has been detained on charges of treason, espionage and tax evasion.
Rights groups, including the one headed by Yunus, accuse the former Soviet country of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents. Baku denies the charges, saying its population enjoys freedom of speech and access to opposition press.
Several rights activists and journalists were sentenced to prison terms this year and last in Azerbaijan on charges including illegal business activity and hooliganism. Their lawyers have dismissed their trials as politically motivated.
Yunus' lawyer Elchin Gambarov told Reuters an Azeri court had ordered her pre-trial detention lengthened by five months.
WASHINGTON. February 19, 2015: Please forgive my long silence. I was put in solitary confinement after my last letter was passed through these prison bars and published. My cell was searched and all my notes, including lists of things I was requesting from home, were taken. I have not received these back. I guess there are many devoted readers of mine at the penitentiary. They are taking turns reading my notes. That is why it is taking them such a long time to return what they have taken from me.
I have not been allowed to see my family, either. The arbitrariness of the penitentiary system allows me two phone calls each week that I use to speak with my mother but, contrary to the law, denies her and my lawyer regular visits. I have access to very little information. At least I have books to keep me company.
BAKU. February 17, 2015: U.S. Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland travelled to Baku to meet with the Azerbaijani Ilham Aliyev and discuss the U.S. - Azerbaijani relations. This visit comes on the heels of a widescale crackdown by the Azerbaijani government, which has already shut down almost all U.S.-based non-profit organizations in Azerbaijan, freezed the bank accounts of those organizations and their local partners, arrested over hundred civic and political activists, many of them being the recipients of the USAID funds. The State Department's official website reported that Victoria Nuland intended to "meet with senior government officials to work to strengthen bilateral relations on trade and investment, energy diversification, security and counter-terrorism, and democracy and civil society, as well as toward advancing a just and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict." At a press-conference after meeting with the Azerbaijani government officials, Victoria Nuland announced that U.S. and Azerbaijan agreed on creating dialog on civil society and democracy. "This will be a U.S.-Azerbaijan bilateral structure that will work in paralel with the work that Azerbaijan is currently doing with the Council of Europe," said Nuland. Victoria Nuland said nothing about the issue with the local office of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which has recently been shut down by the Azerbaijani government, about the imprisoned journalist of the RFE/RL Khadija Ismayilova, who remains in jail under bogus charges (Azeri Report).
BAKU. February 17, 2015 (Business Recorder): Azeribaijan's central bank said on Monday it had abandoned a peg between its currency, the manat, and the US dollar and begun using a dollar-euro basket to manage the exchange rate of the manat, which has been under pressure from a slump in oil prices. The central bank said in a statement it would still take part in the currency market and that it would target a corridor for the manat against the dual-currency basket. The manat has been pegged at just over 0.78 per dollar since mid-2011.
A central bank official told Reuters the basket would probably be split 30 percent in euros and 70 percent in dollars, in line with Azerbaijan's exports. The corridor will be set at a level to allow the bank to intervene when it sees fit. "It will be a steady process. If we free the manat at once, prices could jump. One manat will cost 1 euro this year," said the official, who did not wish to be named since he was not authorised to talk to the media.
WASHINGTON. February 13, 2015: A U.S. lawmaker has criticized U.S. diplomats in Baku for allegedly declining to assist an Azerbaijani rights activist who claims he is the victim of political persecution and is currently being sheltered by Swiss diplomats in Azerbaijan’s capital.
U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California) accused U.S. officials in Baku of lacking courage for purportedly failing to assist activist Emin Huseynov, who is married to a U.S. citizen, when he reportedly appealed to them for help last year.
“When it became clear that he was wanted by the authorities, he asked the United States' embassy for help,” Rohrabacher told a February 12 congressional subcommittee hearing.
“Our embassy turned him away. But he was granted safe haven in the Swiss Embassy, where he is today. And again, I guess it’s a sad day when the Swiss are more courageous than the Americans,” he added.
BAKU. February 12, 2015. The new US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, due to arrive there today, has asked the local public for an advice. A post on the US Embassy’s Facebook page requested the Azerbaijani Facebook users to “vote on his first cultural excursion!” The Ambassador’s own intro video, also posted on the Embassy’s FB page, asked the same question from the Azerbaijani audience.
The overwhelming majority of comments under the post urge the Ambassador to take his first visit to the Kurdakhani prison near the capital Baku, where many of the country’s political prisoners are held. Because so many prominent intellectuals, civil activists, and well-educated youth leaders have been imprisoned in the Kurdakhani jail, it has been dubbed by some as “Kur De Khani University”.
BAKU. February 11, 2015 (RFE/RL): Swiss public television has reported that Azerbaijani rights activist Emin Huseynov is being sheltered at the Swiss Embassy in Baku.
The Swiss television program Rundschau revealed on February 11 that Huseynov arrived at the embassy in August after presenting himself at the entrance of the compound as a Swiss national to avoid being detained by the police.
Huseynov has been at the Swiss Embassy since then.
Huseynov is a prominent critic of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his government.
The Swiss TV report notes Huseynov had been beaten and detained previously and that Huseynov and his supporters claim that was due to his work as a rights activist. -0-
BAKU. February 11, 2015: On January 29, Absheron District Court of Baku sentenced journalist and TV presenter Seymur Hazi to five years in jail. Seymur Hazi, journalist of the opposition Azadlig newspaper and news anchor at “Azerbaijan Hour” TV Program, independent internet and satellite TV with critical views about the Azerbaijani government’s policies, was sentenced to jail based on trumped up hooliganism charges. Hazi’s case was seen largely as a political persecution, both locally and internationally. Below is the English translation of Seymur Hazi’s final statement during his trial shortly before the verdict was announced to him.
- Please, talk in regard to the charge.
- I understand you, but I cannot fulfill your request. Because, if this is my last speech, let me express my mind and let me defend myself as I think is right. It is my exclusive right. But if you are going to behave like the personnel of the Search-Control Department of Kurdakhani Jail, who confiscated my prepared written speech for my final statement, in that case, just openly say that I don’t have the right to make a final statement on the case. Either allow me to speak, or deprive me of this right. But please, don’t limit me.
- It is your right, please!
- Actually, I gave much thought to whether make a final statement during this trial or not. Because, everything is clear. What should I speak to explain anything? However, several things obliged me to make this speech. Personally for me, this trial is not fortuitous, at all. In 1937, my grandfathers were tried and sentenced in just 15 minutes and were shot without even the right to have the last speech. Later, during the Aliyevs’ rule, we faced repressions, too.
WASHINGTON, DC. February 9, 2015: The newly appointed US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Cekuta is expected to arrive in Baku this week on February 12, reported the Turan News Agency. Ambassador Cekuta will be arriving in Baku amidst the controversies created by the Azerbaijani government's ongoing crackdown on the civil society, closure of the offices of major US institutions in Azerbaijan including the local office of the Radio Liberty.
The same day, on February 12, U.S. Congress House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats will be holding a hearing on Azerbaijan to "help identify areas of concern and areas where cooperation [between US and Azerbaijan] could be increased," as described by Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the said subcommittee. "The recent closure of the Baku bureau of Radio Free Europe Radio/ Radio Liberty is not the way to encourage relations between our two nations... We will discuss what actions should be taken to ensure continued good relations,” said Congressman Rohrabacher to Turan News Agency's Washington correspondent.
On February 3, substantial hearing into the criminal case against famous Azerbaijan human rights defender Intigam Aliyev started with an unexpected decision of the court collegium at the Baku Court on Grave Crimes. Straight after the trial started, the judge ordered to release the human rights defender from the cage without any solicitations from the parties. A rusty lock clanged and Intigam Aliyev was allowed to sit next to his lawyers in the courtroom. The audience greeted the political prisoner with applauses.
BERLIN. February 9, 2015: The lawyers solicited to release Intigam Aliyev from the cage during the previous trial as well, but it was rejected. Human rights defenders explain the court changed its approach towards Intigam Aliyev due to high interest of the monitoring missions in the process.
On February 3, representatives of the Article 42 of the Constitution and Human Rights Center from Georgia also monitored the trial in the frame of the project implemented by Human Rights House Tbilisi. Monitors and observers from the embassies of the USA and Great Britain accredited in Azerbaijan, as well as observers from various diplomatic missions and international or local organizations attended the trial. Local journalists were sitting in the first row of the courtroom. Although they were prohibited to audio and video-record the process, they recorded all significant details of the process with huge interest in their notebooks.
Khadija Ismayil: «The links tying the incumbent regime to Russia has nothing to do with our national interests»
BAKU. February 7, 2015: Khadija Ismayil, Azerbajani journalist imprisoned for her journalist investigations into the Azerbaijani president Ilham Ailyev's family business has written a letter from jail. The letter has been published by the local Azerbaijani newspaper "Azadliq" on February 3. Below is the English translation of the letter:
My dears! I am good. No worries. I do not know how to express my gratitude to you for the support you provided to me and my family.
Now the important thing is to continue the struggle. I am not aware of how my colleagues at the radio (the Azerbaijani office of the Radio Liberty which has also been shut down by the Azerbaijani government - ed.) build and do their work. However, I am confident that wherever they are they will work honestly to keep the Azerbaijai people informed.
It is important to continue the activity both inside and outside of the country. Another possibility is to surrender the country to the robbers and then shake head from afar. But we will not be able to silence our conscience for handing the country to lies and servileness without a fight, unless we keep fighting until we draw our last breath. But there are also thousands of nameless heroes in this country who fight and either win or lose in their small daily struggle. They need an example of heroes who fought under the same conditions, in the same place. And as long as there are examples, the right cause will win.
BAKU. February 5, 2015: Azernews.az published a report about the event in DC organized by the Washington Times and attended by the Azerbaijani ambassador to the US Elin Suleymanov, members of the Azerbaijani parliament Asim Mollazadeh and Samad Seyidov. The event focused on the geopolitics in the Caspian Sea region and bilateral relations between the US and Azerbaijan. The title of the report published by the Azernews.az read "Human Rights Should not Affect Azerbaijan-US Relations."
The summary of the event orgnized by the US lobbyists of the Aliyev regime and attended by the representatives of the said regime was best expressed by Samad Seyidov, member of the Azerbaijani parliament. He said the US-Azerbaijani relations "sometimes are affected by the less significant problems related to the human rights in Azerbaijan and this negatively affects the country’s attempts to create closer relations with Europe and the US." At the time this speech was made there were over 90 political prisoners in the jails of Azerbaijan, including the investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Khadija Ismayilova became internationally known for her investigative articles exposing corruption among the family members of the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. Samad Seyidov maintains that Azerbaijan has no political prisoners (Azeri Report).
BAKU. February 5, 2015 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed a law making it easier for his government to shut down media outlets, particularly those with foreign financing.
Under amendments to the Caspian Sea state's law on mass media, any outlet that receives financing from abroad or is found guilty of defamation twice in a year can be shut down by a court ruling.
The legislation was passed by parliament on December 16 and signed by Aliyev on February 3.
Ten days after parliament approved the amendments, investigators and armed police raided RFE/RL's bureau in the capital, Baku, confiscating computers and holding staff members in a room for several hours.
BAKU. February 4, 2015: Khalil Rza, one of the famous poets of Azerbaijan wrote this poem in the time of ‘perestroika’. This was the time when national independence movements already ignited in many soviet republics including Azerbaijan. At that time, 1937, the year in which the Stalin repressions were at its peak point, became the symbol of persecutions against anything which resembled freedom. When the Mikhail Gorbachev government started the crackdown against the national independence movements, Khalil Rza’s “37 continues” came as a response and backlash from the oppressed people of Azerbaijan.
The political thought of Azerbaijan absorbed the stain of the Stalin repressions of 1937 with lasting effects. Even nowadays, many consider that if the national elite of the time had not been destroyed physically and spiritually back then, the Azerbaijanis would have been ahead several steps in terms of development. If to pose this as a question among the Azerbaijani people, many people who are still not afraid to speak their mind, would admit that ’37 continues’.
This article is written not to describe the history of repression in Azerbaijan but to draw attention to one subtle specifics of the current wave of repressions in the country. In our history, it is evident that in 1937, the victims were not only the political dissidents of the time, but also their relatives and friends who did not have any political or social involvement. Nowadays, the same policy continues in ‘the land of fire’. Because of an opposition activist, his or her family is blacklisted as a ‘national enemy’. Recently, Ilham Aliyev has been conducting this policy in a more detestable way, though. This is cruelty that is done with eastern slyness. We will see it more clearly in the examples.
BAKU. January 29, 2015 (Azadliq.org): January 29, Absheron district court sentenced journalist and TV presenter Seymur Hazi to five years in jail.
Hezi was arrested on August 29 on a charge of "aggravated hooliganism".
The state prosecutor originally requested six years for Hazi.
Hazi's lawyers and family are certain the arrest and the sentence are politically motivated and that Hazi is innocent. His father, Meshgul Haziyev said, "the hearing was biased and turned down all of the motions. At the end it simply carried out a politically motivated order".
In March 2011, Hazi was abducted and tortured by unidentified men. He was warned to keep quiet.
DAVOS. January 23, 2015: Yesterday, January 22, George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, met with the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev in Davos and voiced his concerns over the Azerbaijani government’s crackdown on civil society institutions. Immediately after the meeting, the Open Society Foundations issued a statement slamming the Azerbaijani government for the crackdown on the civil society institutions in the country. Below is the full text of that statement:
The Open Society Foundations are deeply concerned about the intensifying campaign against civil society in Azerbaijan, including the detention of several prominent human rights activists.
Over the past few months, Azerbaijan’s government has arrested dozens of political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, and lawyers and falsely charged them with crimes ranging from misappropriation of funds to treason. Some have already received lengthy prison sentences.
BERLIN. January 22, 2015: Yesterday, January 21, speaking at a press conference in Berlin, after his meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev dismissed criticism of his country's rights records, saying that freedom of the press and other human rights are "guaranteed" in Azerbaijan.
Aliyev said press is free in Azerbaijan and although no country is perfect, his country is successfully dealing with all the challenges. "I told Ms. Chancellor that no country can consider itself a perfect one in protecting the human rights. There are problems in any country, including Azerbaijan. What is important is to see how these problems are resolved and what is the intention of the government. No one is persecuted in Azerbaijan for his or her critical thoughts or any thoughts in general," said Ilham Aliyev. The Azerbaijani president pointedly dismissed the low press-freedom ranking on lists made by international human rights groups.
Ilham Aliyev cited his own popularity in Azerbaijan, claiming that presidential election results "proved" that the people approve of him, saying that "more than 90 percent of the population backs me."
Towards the end of the press conference, Azerbaijani Diaspora activist Hebib Muntezir loudly addressed the president Aliyev calling on him to free the political prisoners, existence of whom the Azerbaijani president denies.
As Ilham Alliyev was making his speech,a group of human rights activists were protesting to Ilham Aliyev's human rights abuses in a protest action organized by the Reporters Without Borders outside the press conference building.
BERLIN. January 20, 2015 (HRW Press): – Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel should urge president Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan to free leading human rights defenders, journalists, and other government critics jailed unjustly in Azerbaijan, Human Rights Watch said today. Merkel is scheduled to meet Aliyev in Berlin on January 21, 2015, to discuss bilateral relations, energy policy, and other issues.
In a staggering crackdown on critical voices, Azerbaijani authorities arrested and imprisoned more than 30 government critics in 2014 alone. The country has also adopted legislative changes and other restrictive measures to virtually close space for independent groups.
“Merkel should not miss this opportunity to urge Azerbaijan’s president, in public and in private, to end this attack on human rights” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The charges against these activists are politically motivated. Merkel could make a difference in securing their freedom.”
BAKU. January 19, 2015: Seymur Hazi, political prisoner, anchor of the opposition Azerbaijan Saati (Azerbaijan Hour) TV Program, journalist of the opposition newspaper Azadliq, wrote a letter from prison which was published at the newspaper Azadliq. Below is his letter:
I am feeling OK in the prison. I have no complaints about my health and general mood. There is nothing different besides that I miss my friends and relatives. I think about what is going around and read much. I wouldn’t like to waste my time. I don’t know how much time I will have to spend here, so I don’t want to lose this time completely. My advice to the youth in freedom is that they should not waste their time no matter what conditions you have to face.
Occasionally, I get some newspapers. Recently, in one of those newspapers I read the letter Khadija Ismayilova wrote from prison and I was impressed. Maybe the very first reason is that we are very close here distance wise. Here, in Kurdakhani jail, the distance between us is barely 100 feet. Maybe, even less. The author of the letter I was reading in the newspaper is kept some 100 feet away from me.
BAKU. January 16, 2015 (Azadliq.org): In response to the New York Times article “The Two Faces of Azerbaijan’s Mr. Aliyev” one of Azerbaijan's state media outlets was quick to respond. The government outlet “Azerbaijan” published the following piece, “The Two Faces of Barack Obama” two days later. Following the country's Chief of Staff, Ramiz Mehdiyev's 60-page diatribe accusing the West and in particular the United States, this article too questions U.S. credibility and President Obama's true intentions as the leader of the world's superpower.
Below is the compilation of quotes translated from the original piece.
"In 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people. This happened only nine months after Obama was elected. US’s first Afro-American leader promised to leave behind the country’s one-sided foreign policy and instead including the US, protect the interests of other world countries. He even promised to sit at a negotiation table with Iran and close down Guantanamo prison. Many in the world praised Obama as the leader of peace and continuous stability. But as some say, only the greatest personalities realize their high ideals with their actions and work.
An article in Foreign Affairs “The end of Hypocrisy: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Leaks” by George Washington University professors Marta Finnemore and assistant professor Henri Farrell illustrate Obama Administration’s hypocritical foreign policy. The authors claim “hypocrisy – assuring others in the legitimacy of one’s actions is an important part of Washington’s “soft power” approach”. Only after Bradley Manning and Snowden revelations “Washington faced what can be described as an accelerating hypocrisy collapse -- a dramatic narrowing of the country’s room to maneuver between its stated aspirations and its sometimes sordid pursuit of self-interest.”
BAKU. January 15, 2015 (Azadliq.org): January 15, Baku Court of Grave Crimes held its preliminary hearing on the case of the human rights activist Rasul Jafarov.
A double metal cage was installed in the court room to prevent people from approaching Rasul Jafarov who was kept inside during the trial.
Jafarov’s lawyer, Fariz Namazli filed a motion to suspend the court proceedings due to lack of evidence. The motion was rejected. To this, Namazli offered to provide additional documents proving Jafarov’s innocence.
Jafarov’s lawyer requested the replacement of detention with a house arrest now that the investigation is complete. However this motion along with others was too dismissed by the public prosecutor.
WASHINGTON, DC. January 14, 2015 (RFE/RL): A U.S. congressman has urged Azerbaijan to release jailed journalist Khadija Ismayilova and criticized its crackdown on RFE/RL's Baku bureau.
Ismayilova’s detention last month and a subsequent raid on RFE/RL offices are among "a series of steps by the Azerbaijani government to limit free media and public discourse,” U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California) said in a January 13 statement.
Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging threats, said releasing Ismayilova “would be a step in the right direction and a sign of Azerbaijan’s positive intentions.”
Ismayilova, an investigative reporter and RFE/RL contributor, was detained December 5 on charges of inciting an attempted suicide. A court ordered that she be held for two months pretrial.
Her supporters say the case is politically motivated.
Other U.S. officials have said they are troubled by Baku's recent crackdown on activists and media. -0-
WASHINGTON, DC. January 12, 2015: Today, The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy is holding a discussion forum titled "The Crackdown on Independent Voices in Azerbaijan." The featured speakers of the event are Altay Goyushov, Reagan-Fascell Democracy fellow, National Endowment for Democracy, professor of Turkic History, Baku State University, Kenan Aliyev, director of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Audrey Aldstadt, fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Catherine Cosman, senior policy analyst, US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor United States Department of State, Miriam Lanskoy, director of Russia and Eurasia Programs, National Endowment for Democracy. The event is moderated by Christopher Walker, executive director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies of NED (Azeri Report).
BAKU. January 10, 2015 (Azadliq Radio): Azadliq Radio: Your parents are in jail for five months now. How are you holding up?
Dinara Yunus: These past five months were emotionally difficult and challenging for me. I have not been able to wish my mom a happy birthday, we could not celebrate my parents' 37th wedding anniversary, we couldn't celebrate the new year together, and now with my dad's approaching birthday I feel really down. My mom's mistreatment in jail worries me a lot. Having no news from my dad feels like he has been completely cut out of my life.
Q: When was the last time you saw your parents?
In person the last time I saw my mum was in fall of 2013, when she was preparing for an eye surgery in Germany. My dad I saw in November of 2013 here in Amsterdam. But we skyped often.
BAKU. January 9, 2015: Azerbaijan, which has the most imprisoned journalists in the former Soviet Union, rejected U.S. criticism of its crackdown on civil society and media and denounced what it calls efforts to sow strife in countries under the guise of promoting democracy.
“As a modern Muslim nation striding on the path of democracy, Azerbaijan wants to be accepted as it is and not the way others would want it to look,” Ali Hasanov, head of the political department at President Ilham Aliyev’s office, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Azerbaijan has never bowed to pressure or threats. It never will.”
The rift is adding to strains between the U.S. and some former Soviet republics as a grinding conflict in Ukraine and angst over Russian expansionism revive security concerns in the region. Russia has courted the Azeri leadership even as U.S. President Barack Obama in September singled out the country as a place where “laws make it incredibly difficult for NGOs even to operate.”
Relations between the U.S. and the Caspian Sea nation have been on the rocks in the past several months as the Azeri government arrested opposition activists, lawyers and journalists using what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have described as bogus charges to silence dissent. The former Soviet Union’s third-biggest oil producer provides the only westward route for central Asian crude that bypasses Russia via a U.S.-backed pipeline.
NEW YORK. January 7, 2015 (The Guardian): The Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini has described the freedom to write without fear of persecution as “sacred” as he adds his voice to the growing international chorus calling for the release of Azerbaijani journalist and translator Khadija Ismayilova.
Ismayilova is an award-winning investigative journalist and critic of the Azerbaijani government, who contributes to Radio Free Europe as well as other outlets. She was arrested a month ago in Baku, Azerbaijan for allegedly inciting a man to suicide, and sentenced to two months in pre-trial detention, with a potential prison sentence of up to seven years.
Ismayilova also translated Hosseini’s The Kite Runner into Azeri. The bestselling novelist said that the “Azerbaijani government’s many attempts to silence Khadija and strip her of this freedom speak volumes about her courage and influence in the face of extreme oppression”, adding that “as a writer, I value as sacred the freedom to write and share ideas without fear of persecution, a liberty essential to any sort of meaningful dialogue”.
International writers’ group PEN’s American Center said the charges against Ismayilova were “spurious”, and “aimed to silence her unyielding efforts to expose corruption and other government abuses”. Just before her arrest, said PEN, the chief of staff to President Ilham Aliyev issued a 60-page statement, accusing Ismayilova of a “destructive attitude toward well-known members of the Azerbaijani community” in service of foreign patrons.
WASHINGTON, DC. December 31, 2014: When the American ambassador to oil-rich Azerbaijan opened a veterinary laboratory in the small town of Goygol earlier this year, the U.S. embassy put out a press release to commemorate the landmark event. When Azerbaijan's government detained the country's most prominent investigative journalist earlier this month, barely a whisper was heard from America's diplomats.
Khadija Ismayilova, whose investigations into corruption cases involving the ruling family of the Caspian nation have won her an award for 'Courage in Journalism', has faced persecution by the authorities before, most notoriously when they tried to blackmail her by secretly filming her having sex and threatening to post the footage online. (She refused to back down, and the footage was promptly released onto the Internet.) In what a recent Washington Post editorial called "the latest example of how Azerbaijan has become a bleak dystopia for human rights and democracy", she was locked away on the Kafka-esque charge of "incitement to commit suicide."
WASHINGTON, DC. December 30, 2014: Yesterday, December 29, 2014, the spokesman for the US Depaartment of State, Jeff Rathke, briefly commented on the Azerbaijani government's human rights abuses at a press conference. Click here for video The US State Department's spokesman admitted that on December 21, the State Secretary John Kerry had a telephone conversation with lham Aliyev discussing the US concerns over the Azerbaijani government's human rights abuses, but the Azerbaijani government went on to shut down the Baku office of the US funded radio station Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) almost immediately after that conversation, on December 26. Nevertheless, the US State Department's spokesman found some positive comments for the Azerbaijani government, specifically praising the Azerbaijani president's recent decision to pardon 10 political prisoners on December 29. There are over 100 political prisoners remaining in Azerbaijan and on December 26, the Azerbaijani government has launched another grand political show trial threatening to charge and arrest dozens of journalists of the US funded Radio Liberty adding to the list of the existing political prisoners. Jeff Rathke made the following statement on the Azerbaijani government's recent human rights abuses
"I stated that I just have one thing to mention at the top.
We are alarmed by the Government of Azerbaijan’s crackdown on civil society. The Secretary raised our concerns in his December 21st phone call with President Aliyev. Since then, we have seen the closure of RFE/RL’s offices, the seizure of its property, and RFE/RL employees forcibly taken from their homes for questioning by local law enforcement on unspecified charges. Contractors and others tangentially connected to RFE/RL are also being interrogated by authorities. These actions, along with the denial of access to legal counsel during these interrogations, is further cause for concern. We call again on Azerbaijani authorities to adhere to their OSCE and other international commitments to uphold human rights and basic freedoms, including freedom of the press.
In this regard, President Aliyev’s decision today to pardon 87 individuals, including 10 considered to have been imprisoned for civic activism, is a step in the right direction. We urge Azerbaijan’s authorities to build on these pardons by releasing others incarcerated in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms."