The final week of the year was marked by a series of dramatic developments in Azerbaijan. In particular, the Azerbaijani Manat lost half its value on December 21, after the country’s Central Bank scrapped the currency’s dollar peg amid sharp declines in the price of oil. While the previous devaluation in February had caused an outcry among opposition parties and independent experts, this time the general public rushed to express their discontent.
“This is such a disaster for us,” said one Baku resident to the Guardian. “How come they decided to bankrupt people in one night?”
Social networks were seething with anger and criticism from ordinary people.
Years of economic growth and the stability of the national currency has, until now, played a major role in securing the credibility of the regime in the eyes of the Azerbaijani public. However, as the country’s economy and financial system begins to crumble, the Aliyev government will likely find itself facing growing popular pressure.
Earlier in December, US Representative Chris Smith (Republican – New Jersey) introduced legislation that would deny US visas to senior Azerbaijani officials due to what he calls Baku’s “appalling human rights violations.” The bill, titled the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, was introduced in the House of Representatives on December 16. The bill was submitted on the same day that the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, launched an official inquiry into Azerbaijan’s implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In response, Azerbaijan’s parliament, Milli Meclis decided to go ahead with a draft bill titled On the Human Rights Situation in the United States, which would impose sanctions on US officials. In the meantime, official Baku and state-controlled media slammed Secretary General Jagland for “double-standards” and “Armenian ties”. The Head of Azerbaijani Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), ruling party MP Samed Seyidov, called Jagland’s inquiry “another anti-Azerbaijani step which is doomed to failure”. “Today, disintegrative processes are going on within the Council of Europe. If the Secretary General wants to influence them in this way, these processes will further accelerate. Not Azerbaijan, but the Council of Europe that is in crisis will suffer from it,” said Samedov.
Earlier this month, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) urged UNESCO to dismiss Mehriban Aliyeva from her post as goodwill ambassador of the organization, due to her involvement in human rights violations. “The wife of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev is part of the top power circles of Azerbaijan, a country where journalists get detained as Khadija Ismayilova, others get even murdered. The ECPMF sees Mehriban Aliyeva’s UNESCO position as an insult of European values, as enshrined in the European Charter on Freedom of the Press. It is demanded from Ms. Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, to dismiss Mehriban Aliyeva”, reads the organization’s press release.
Against this background, a relentless human rights crackdown has continued.
Rauf Mirgadirov, once awarded the title of Honored Journalist by the President, has been sentenced to 6 years in prison on charges of high treason.
Although the criminal case on the death of former IRFS chairman, journalist Rasim Aliyev, who died in hospital after being severely beaten, has been referred to court, there have been no measures against the medical personnel who acted negligently towards him. The footballer believed to be the main culprit in the journalist’s beating is not facing appropriate charges. Impunity for those behind killings of journalists in Azerbaijan means that to date, five journalists have been murdered.
According independent local experts, there are currently 93 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Despite repeated calls by international and local organizations, along with the so-called silent diplomacy by Azerbaijan’s multilateral and bilateral partners, not a single political prisoner has been released in the traditional New Year pardon. The decree to pardon more than 200 prisoners was issued by President Ilham Aliyev on December 28. The false promise of release given to some of political prisoners and their families prior to the amnesty is an unprecedented act of cruelty by the regime.
The authorities once again missed their opportunity to release political prisoners and embark on reforms, demonstrating that international obligations mean nothing to them.