Azerbaijan’s ‘relentless crackdown’ on critics

AZERBAIJAN LEYLA YUNISAzerbaijan’s arrest of a leading human rights defender and government critic, Rasul Jafarov, reflects the government’s concerted efforts to silence its critics, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately secure Jafarov’s release from pretrial custody and drop all politically motivated charges against him. They should also end their ongoing harassment against independent organizations.

“Rasul Jafarov is one of the most outspoken critics of politically motivated prosecution in Azerbaijan and of its ever-deteriorating rights record,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By arresting Jafarov, the authorities are sending an unambiguous message to activists to stop their human rights advocacy.”

The Grave Crimes Investigation Unit of the General Prosecutor’s Office arrested Jafarov on August 2, 2014. He is the founder and chair of Human Rights Club, an independent human rights group. Together with several partner organizations, Jafarov had been compiling a comprehensive list of victims of politically motivated arrests in Azerbaijan and pressing for their release. He planned to submit the list to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, which in June had appointed a special rapporteur on politically motivated prosecutions in Azerbaijan. Human Rights Club had spearheaded several critical campaigns against politically motivated prosecutions in Azerbaijan, including the “Sing for Democracy” campaign in the lead up to the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2012.

On July 30, 2014, Azerbaijani authorities arrested Leyla Yunus (above), another human rights defender who was working on the list with Jafarov, on multiple charges, including treason.

Jafarov’s arrest takes place amid a comprehensive crackdown on independent organizations and political activists. In the past two years, Azerbaijani authorities have brought or threatened unfounded criminal charges against dozens of political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, most of whom are behind bars. The crackdown continued even as, on May 14, Azerbaijan took over the rotating chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Europe’s foremost human rights body.

“The government fears human rights work that exposes abuses, and its response is to abuse the law and push organizations to its margins,” Denber said. “Groups that are outspoken and challenge government policies, or work on controversial issues, are now extremely vulnerable to criminal prosecution.”


Activists’ arrest prompts call for sanctions against Azeri officials


AZERBAIJAN LEYLA YUNISA leading human rights group has strongly condemned the arrest of human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband on charges of of high treason and other crimes.

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety denounced the “trumped-up legal assault” as “the most recent in a host of troubling moves by the Azerbaijani government that demonstrate how far Azerbaijan has strayed from international standards of human rights and rule of law.”

“Leyla Yunus is the latest victim of the Azerbaijani authorities’ merciless campaign of repression in the wake of 2013 Presidential Election”, said IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov:

The move comes on the heels of the Presidential office-orchestrated campaign against civil society that has included a state-controlled media smear campaign; the raids on NGOs; confiscation of equipment; arrest of NGO bank accounts which led to de facto shutdown of several NGOs; the intimidation and legal pursuit of NGO workers inside and outside the country, including IRFS partners–International Media Support, IREX and National Endowment for Democracy.

The raids – in which officials from the prosecutor’s office, tax inspectorate and ministry of justice comb through registration and financial documents -are being conducted under controversial amendments to the law, requiring NGOs to register their grants within Ministry of Justice.

While Azerbaijani tax and Ministry of Justice do have powers to supervise that non-profit entities comply with legislation in force, the context in which the current NGO inspections are being carried out coupled with their scope and nature can only create the impression that they are aimed at intimidating and putting pressure on NGOs, in particular those that benefit from foreign grants for public advocacy work on human rights and related issues.

Since President Aliyev assumed his third term in October 2013, we have witnessed a wave of repressive measures in the country that have sought to silence civil society, the group notes.


Azerbaijani rights defender charged with high treason

AZERBAIJAN LEYLA YUNISAzerbaijani human rights defender Leyla Yunus has been charged with “high treason, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, forged documentation and fraud, reports Meydan TV. She has also been given three months of pre-trial detention, according to Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

Her husband Arif Yunus is reportedly facing two charges; state betrayal and fraud, Index on Censorship reports.

Yunus has been shouting truth to power in Azerbaijan for years, earning a reputation as the conscience of her country, RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson and Ilkin Mammadov report:

The authorities seem bent on playing hard ball in this case. A lengthy statement by the prosecutor’s office tries to connect the Yunuses with Armenia’s secret services and accuses them of providing detailed military information relating to the simmering dispute over Azerbaijan’s breakaway ethnic-Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The charges filed against the Yunus’s are outrageous,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), co-chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Both Leyla and Arif are long-time supporters of people-to-people contact with Armenia, and the charge of espionage against them is absurd. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to drop the charges and to stop the coordinated campaign aimed at the opposition, civil society and journalists in Azerbaijan who are peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.”

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention:

Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:

i.Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov as well as of all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan; 

ii.      Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Leyla Yunus from pre-trial detention and Mr. Yunusov from house arrest, since their detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iii.     Remove all travel restrictions placed upon Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov;

iv.     Put an end to any kind of harassment – including at the judicial and investigatory levels – against Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, her relatives and more generally against all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

v.       Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:

-Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;

-Article 5, which underscores the right of every individual to form, join, and participate in non-governmental organizations; and

-Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

vi.     Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.


Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 25, (+994) 412 92 28 68, E-mail:,

Mr. Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prosecutor’s Office, 7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 82, (+994) 12 492 26 63, E-mail:,

Mr. Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security, Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Parliament Avenue 14, Baku AZ1006, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 493-76-22, E-mail:

Mr. Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Fax: (+994) 12 492 45 90

Mr. Elmar MammadyarovMinister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail:

Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail:; Fax (+994) 12 430 09 81

H.E. Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, Route des Fayards 237, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland, Fax: (+41) 22 901 18 44, E-mail:

Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels, Avenue Moliere 464, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 345 91 85

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.

TeliaSonera’s covert connection to Azerbaijani president’s daughters


azerbaijan network

Through a trail of owners and offshore registrations, the two daughters of President Ilham Aliyev appear to be connected to Azerbaijan’s largest mobile phone business, Azercell, RFE/RL’s Khadija Ismayilova reports

Records indicate they are linked to two of the three largest providers, which means the government is potentially controlling nearly three-quarters of the mobile market. This raises serious questions about Internet surveillance and communications security within Azerbaijan and may help to explain complaints about costly service.

It also indicates more unusual ties between Swedish telecom giant TeliaSonera and Eurasian political figures than the company has publicly acknowledged, according to documents reviewed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and (RFE/RL).

Media watchdogs say these hidden connections behind the ownership of mobile-phone operators raise serious questions about Internet freedom and the extent to which government officials may be listening to citizens.

Rashid Hajili is the director of the Media Rights Institute in Baku, which monitors media and protects journalists’ rights. He says the Internet is heavily monitored by the Azerbaijani government, which has a history of blocking websites that criticize it.

Hajili says the Ministry of Communication requires all communication companies to provide equipment and special facilities to the Ministry of National Security for surveillance. But while the companies have cooperated with Azerbaijani law enforcement in cases involving journalists and bloggers, Hajili says media rights advocates haven’t received information needed to defend those journalists.




Autocratic model: Putin’s Russia enables repression

nations in transit

The findings of Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report point to Russia’s role as model and enabler for Eurasia’s autocracies, according to Arch Puddington and David J. Kramer, vice president for research and president, respectively, at Freedom House.

Vladimir Putin is not solely responsible for this depressing state of affairs. But his actions have contributed mightily to the woes of his neighborhood, they write for the American Interest.

The grim facts are reflected in the findings of Nations in Transit, an annual report on the condition of democracy in the post-Communist world issued by Freedom House. Among the major conclusions:

  • Four out of five people in the 12 Eurasia (i.e., former Soviet) countries live under authoritarian rule;
  • 97 percent of the region’s citizens live in societies with major restrictions on press freedom;
  • Every country in the region save two (Georgia and Moldova) has experienced a decline in democratic standards over the past decade;
  • The past decade has seen major setbacks in judicial independence and civil society;
  • Azerbaijan and Russia have registered the most serious setbacks over the decade.

nations in transit2Again and again, however, the findings of Nations in Transit point to Russia’s role as model and enabler for the region’s fellow autocracies. We are increasingly witnessing a kind of copycat effect, where measures adopted by Russia for repressive purposes find their way into the legal and political systems of neighboring states.

This is especially the case concerning civil society. As early as 2005, Putin pushed through legislation to restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations, and this became a model for other regimes in the region. After Putin returned to the presidency in May 2012, he launched a series of measures to further restrict NGOs, culminating in the law that brands groups that accept funding from abroad as foreign agents. In 2013 alone, some 1,000 civil society groups were investigated, harassed, or shut down altogether, as in the case of GOLOS, a respected election-monitoring organization.