It would be naive to expect the government to take any steps to improve the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, given the unending pressure on human rights defenders, journalists and activists. The fact that Leyla Yunus remains seriously ill in jail and the death threats against journalist Shirin Abbasov are just two examples.
Government officials, including the president himself, have repeatedly declared that the Internet in Azerbaijan is free and uncensored. However, on November 16, 90% of the country was left without internet for six hours, halting activity at organizations and agencies around the country. The blackout was apparently caused by a fire at one of the centers of Delta Telecom, the leading operator in the telecommunications and information technology market in the Caucasus region. This protracted shutdown may took place just four days after the dismissal of the Minister of Communications and Information Technologies, in a country where the government has enabled a monopoly – there is no market competition. Some experts believe that the government intentionally cut the internet to test public reactions.
Last week, the government declared before the UN Committee Against Torture that Azerbaijan is free of any instances of torture. The representatives of the Ombudsman’s Office, who met with Leyla Yunus this week, reported that had no complaints. However, Leyla Yunus’ lawyer says that she is being denied a place in the prison medical facility, despite the serious deterioration of her health. International organizations continue to demand her release, calls which are ignored by the government. Yunus is also being denied the medication prescribed by her German doctor.
Journalists have also felt the wrath of the government. Journalist Shirin Abbasov has reported that he has received death threats from the Interior Ministry’s Main Organized Crime Department and the Ministry of National Security, which he believes are linked to his lawyer’s preparations to file a case with the European Court in connection with his unlawful detention in September. While journalist Khadija Ismayil is international recognized for her professional accomplishments, the authorities are deliberately delaying her trial. The trial of journalist Rauf Mirgadirov is being held behind closed doors, and the court has banned his lawyers from sharing information on proceedings.
This pressure on civil society goes beyond Baku. In the autonomous exclave of Nakhchivan, Zeynalabdin Bagirzade, an activist with the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party’s Babek district branch has been arrested on charges of resisting authorities. His family has faced torture at the District Prosecutor’s Office.
Against this backdrop of mounting intimidation and pressure, the Central Election Commission has sent the election results to the Constitutional Court for approval. We are now awaiting the approval for another set of fraudulent election results.