WASHINGTON (ArmInfo)—U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has issued Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015.
In the report, the Department criticizes President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev for large-scale human rights violations in Azerbaijan.
“The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) canceled its observation of the November 1 legislative elections when the government refused to accept ODIHR’s recommended number of election monitors. Without ODIHR observation, it was impossible to assess fully the conduct of the Parliamentary election; independent local and international monitors alleged irregularities throughout the country,” the report says.
According the report, the most significant human rights problems during the year included:
1. Increased government restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association that were reflected in the intimidation, incarceration on questionable charges, and use of force against human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and some of their relatives. The operating space for activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) remained severely constrained. Multiple sources reported a continuing crackdown on civil society, including intimidation, arrest, and conviction on charges widely considered politically motivated; criminal investigations into NGO activities; restrictive laws; and the freezing of bank accounts that rendered many groups unable to function.
2. Government use of the judicial system to punish peaceful dissent. There were reports that authorities engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention and politically motivated imprisonment, conducted trials that lacked due process, and subjected individuals to lengthy pretrial detention with impunity. The number of defense lawyers willing and able to accept sensitive cases declined due to actions by authorities. Authorities released some individuals widely considered to be incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms, and granted conditional humanitarian release to two such individuals.
3. Government restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government in free and fair elections.
Local NGOs considered at least 13 journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. On September 1, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes convicted independent journalist Khadija Ismayilova, well known for her reporting on corruption and for her human rights advocacy, for alleged crimes considered by observers to be politically motivated (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). Amnesty International considered Ismayilova a prisoner of conscience, and a number of governments, international journalists, and human rights organizations called for her release. Local observers reported 64 physical assaults on journalists during 2014. The attacks mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and other newspapers, and Obyektiv, the report says.
In addition, it is mentioned that the majority of independent and opposition newspapers remained in a precarious financial situation having problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines. Most relied on political parties, influential sponsors, or the State Media Fund for financing.
Most media practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation.
The National Television and Radio Council required that local, privately owned television and radio stations not rebroadcast complete news programs of foreign origin. The report addresses the Libel/Slander Laws: “Libel is a criminal offense and covers written and verbal statements. The law provides for large fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel. Conviction of defamation is punishable by fines ranging from 100 to 1,000 manat ($61.70 to $617) and imprisonment for six months to three years.”
The government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but it required internet service providers to be licensed and have formal agreements with the Ministry of Communications and High Technologies. “Besides,” the reports says, “The government on occasion restricted academic freedom.”
As for freedom of assembly, the government severely restricted the right. Authorities, at times, responded to peaceful protests and assemblies by using force and detaining protesters. The U.S. Department reports says that the Azerbaijani constitution provides for freedom of association, but their law places some restrictions on this right. The report also said that there were amendments enacted in 2014 to severely constrain NGO activities, while the government limited freedom of movement for some activists and journalists.