This week saw a further crackdown on freedom of conscience, new prohibitions on covering religious issues introduced for journalists, and health problems suffered by imprisoned human rights defenders.
The operation launched in Nardaran last week continued. The settlement remains under police control; electricity and water supplies have been suspended in violation of national law, and cable and mobile internet usage has been restricted. The latter in particular illustrates the level of government censorship. Internet speed has also been reduced in other parts of Baku. Detainees are not allowed to meet with their lawyers.
The government is maximizing the political leverage it has gained as a result of the events Nardaran. Parliament will review a draft amendment to the law on citizenship. The bill would deprive Azerbaijani nationals of their citizenship if found guilty of terrorist activities or actions aimed at the violent change of the constitutional system. This is contrary to Azerbaijan’s Constitution, which states that no one can be deprived of citizenship. Despite of the president’s rhetoric about the guarantees for freedom of conscience and other freedoms, the government is attempting to introduce restrictive legal changes.
The authorities have continued to crack down not only on freedom of conscience, but also on the freedom of expression. Journalist Miralam Hashimov has been fined 2000 AZN in connection with a lawsuit brought by the governor of Masalli. The government has begun targeting websites and journalists focusing on religious issues. Namely, Ilkin Mammadli, the acting editor of the mainly religious news website azadxeber.net, has been sentenced to administrative detention for 22 days. The Editor-in-Chief of this website was arrested ahead of Eurovision in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in jail. Another website covering religious issues, islamazeri.az, has been blocked, and access to the website is possible only from foreign countries and non-domestic IPs. The website’s Facebook page has also been hacked. After the Nardaran events, legislative amendments concerning religious issues have been proposed. This was reported at the December 2 session of the Azerbaijani Parliament. A provision will be added to Article 18 of the Law on Citizenship regarding deprivation of citizenship for terrorist activities and actions aimed at violent change of the constitutional system of Azerbaijan.
This means that the journalist must obey the law enforcement agency, and cannot publish his/her own opinion or conduct independent investigatory work.
Two jailed human rights defenders suffered from health problems this week; Leyla Yunus cannot eat, while Anar Mammadli is suffering from gastric pains.
Persons with party affiliations also faced pressure. Seven relatives of the former parliamentary candidate, Azerbaijan People’s Party Chairman, Penah Huseyn, stand accused of hooliganism. A groundless travel ban has been imposed on National Council member Eldaniz Guliyev, although he has already paid the penalty imposed against him based on the complaint of the Interior Minister.