Azerbaijan presents a bleak picture, when it comes to democracy and human rights, writes RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson.
The European Stability Initiative, a Berlin-based think tank, recently issued a five-page report detailing what it calls “the most serious and brutal crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan ever” since Baku assumed the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in May.
From the conviction and eight-year prison sentence handed down to journalist and activist Parviz Hashimli on May 15 to the brutal beating of journalist Ilgar Nasibov by unknown assailants on August 21, it is a depressing litany of arrests, detentions, searches, and court hearings of bloggers, journalists, and prominent activists.
Squeezing Out Independent Media
Mehman Aliyev, the head of the Turan information agency, says that the crackdown is particularly severe because Azerbaijani society was already strictly repressed. “There were more media outlets in the past and when one or two was hit, it did not seem very dramatic,” he says..
The most recent list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, published in June under the supervision of activist Leyla Yunus (above) - who was arrested herself in July — includes 98 names.
Blaming ‘Foreign Forces’
On September 5, Azerbaijani security forces raided the Baku office of IREX, a U.S.-funded nongovernmental organization that promotes democratic reforms around the globe. The organization’s bank accounts have been frozen, as have those of other international NGOs including Transparency International, Oxfam, and the National Democratic Institute.
At the same time, “The New York Times” on September 6 published an investigative report detailing how Baku uses its oil money to buy influence in Washington and “reinforce public opinion in the United States” that Azerbaijan is “an important security partner.”….
“The government is frightened most by recent developments around the world, especially in the post-Soviet space,” says Baku-based political analyst Azer Gasimli. “Today the fate of Azerbaijan, to some extent, is being resolved on the battlefields of Ukraine. The West is preoccupied with the events in Ukraine and until that [conflict] is resolved, the U.S. and the West won’t get strict with Azerbaijan.”