Annual Report: Azerbaijan 2013

Report
May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Azerbaijan 2013

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  • On 7 March, Khadija Ismayilova, a well-known investigative journalist with Radio Free Europe (Azadliq Radiosu), received a threatening letter containing intimate photos of her, after her apartment was broken into and a hidden camera installed in her room. The letter threatened to “shame” her if she did not abandon her work. After Khadija Ismayilova publicly exposed the blackmail attempt, a video showing her in an intimate relationship was published on the internet.
  • On 8 April, Ogtay Gulaliyev, a human rights defender with the Kur Civil Society Organization working on environmental issues was arrested on charges of hooliganism and “inciting violence”. He was released on bail on 13 June and by the end of the year his trial had not begun, although the charges against him remained, carrying a sentence of three years’ imprisonment. On 8 June Ilham Amiraslanov, another human rights activist with the Kur Civil Society Organization, was arrested on charges of illegal possession of a gun and ammunition, which he maintained were planted on him. On 12 September, he was sentenced to two years in prison after an unfair trial. Both Ogtay Gulaliyev and Ilham Amiraslanov had been helping flood victims and were vocal against the cases of aid embezzlement by the local authorities. Ilham Amiraslanov’s arrest came a few days after he met with the Minister of Emergency Situations regarding the problems of the flood victims.
  • On 18 April, several journalists were violently assaulted when they tried to film illegal house demolitions on the outskirts of Baku. Among them, journalist Idrak Abbasov was beaten unconscious by police and state employees.
  • On 13 June, trumped-up charges of hooliganism were brought against pro-democracy activist Mehman Huseynov apparently in retaliation for his journalism and campaigning activities before the Eurovision song contest. He was later released from pre-trial detention, but remained under investigation.
  • On 21 June, Hilal Mamedov, editor of a minority language newspaperTolyshi sado (The Voice of Talysh), was arrested on spurious drugs charges. The next day a Baku city court ordered him to spend three months in pre-trial detention. On 3 July, additional charges of treason and inciting religious and national hatred were also brought against him. The case did not reach court before the end of the year.
  • On 29 September, Zaur Gurbanli, pro-democracy campaign activist and chair of the opposition youth movement Nida, was imprisoned for 15 days after he posted an article criticizing the government for nepotism and a poem by the daughter of President Aliyev being mandatory reading in the school curriculum.

Freedom of association

NGOs working on human rights and democracy issues faced pressure and harassment and found it difficult to hold meetings or operate freely, especially outside Baku.

  • On 7 February, Democracy Development Resource Centre, an NGO operating in Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety received a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which warned them against “spreading inflammatory information” through their websites Nakhchivan Human Rights and Media Monitor.
  • Aftandil Mammadov, co-ordinator of the Guba branch of Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre, reported being summoned to the local police station on 27 July and again on 27 August, and warned against organizing any activities without the knowledge and permission of the local police. He previously reported being persistently followed by the police and prevented from holding group meetings.
  • The Baku branch of the Human Rights House, an international NGO, remained closed after authorities forcibly shut down the organization on 7 March 2011 on the grounds that they had failed to comply with registration requirements.

Freedom of assembly

Public protests continued to be banned in the centre of Baku. In November, amendments to the Criminal Code increased the maximum punishment for those organizing and participating in “unauthorized” or “banned” protests. The new sentence could be up to three years in prison and a fine of US$10,000.