Human Rights Watch Reports ‘Azerbaijan Continues to Wage a Vicious Crackdown’

A protestor holds a sign calling for the release of unjustly imprisoned youth activists in Baku (Photo: Azadliq Radiosu/RFERL)
A protestor holds a sign calling for the release of unjustly imprisoned youth activists in Baku (Photo: Azadliq Radiosu/RFERL)

A protestor holds a sign calling for the release of unjustly imprisoned youth activists in Baku (Photo: Azadliq Radiosu/RFERL)

Human Rights Watch Releases Report on Azerbaijan Entitled ‘Harassed, Imprisoned, Exiled: Azerbaijan’s Continuing Crackdown on Government Critics, Lawyers, and Civil Society’

NEW YORK (Armenian Weekly)—Human Rights Watch—the New York-based international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights—released a report entitled “Harassed, Imprisoned, Exiled: Azerbaijan’s Continuing Crackdown on Government Critics, Lawyers, and Civil Society” on October 20.

The report harshly criticizes the Azerbaijani government’s ongoing human rights violations, specifically on its crackdown on sectors of civil society which criticize the country’s ruling regime.

Human Rights Watch’s report is based on more than 90 in-depth interviews with lawyers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), journalists, youth group members, political party activists, and others, as well as detailed analysis of numerous laws and regulations pertaining to the work of NGOs.

Below is the summary of the report. The full report can be read here.

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The government of Azerbaijan continues to wage a vicious crackdown on critics and dissenting voices. The space for independent activism, critical journalism, and opposition political activity has been virtually extinguished by the arrests and convictions of many activists, human rights defenders, and journalists, as well as by laws and regulations restricting the activities of independent groups and their ability to secure funding. Independent civil society in Azerbaijan is struggling to survive.

In late 2015 and early 2016 the authorities conditionally released or pardoned a number of individuals previously convicted on politically motivated charges, including several high-profile figures whose arrests and convictions had drawn vocal criticism from governments, intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental groups (NGOs). Many have sought to frame the releases as an indication of a shift in the government’s punitive attitude towards independent civil society activists and groups.

However, even as the government released some activists, bloggers, and journalists, authorities have arrested many others on spurious criminal and administrative charges to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate work. None of those released had their convictions vacated, several face travel restrictions, others left the country fearing further politically motivated persecution, or had to halt their work due to almost insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles hampering their access to funding. Authorities have also harassed the relatives of those attempting to carry out their activism from abroad, in some cases by bringing criminal charges against them. Numerous lawyers representing government critics in legal proceedings have been disbarred on questionable grounds, apparently to prevent them from carrying out their work.

Based on more than 90 in-depth interviews with lawyers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), journalists, youth group members, political party activists, and relatives of these people, as well as detailed analysis of numerous laws and regulations pertaining to the work of NGOs, this report documents the government’s concerted efforts to paralyze civil society and punish those who criticize or challenge the government through prosecutions and legal and regulatory restrictions.

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