US DEPARTMENT OF STATE DISSEMINATES ITS 2009 REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN AZERBAIJAN

March 12th, 2010
The US Department of State disseminated its 2009 report on the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan.

It is said in the report that the right of citizens to peacefully change their government was restricted in the October 2008 presidential election, March referendum, and December municipal elections. “A March referendum made a number of changes to the constitution, including several that limit freedom of the media. These included a prohibition on videotaping or photographing of anyone without their permission. The government also amended the law on mass media to make it easier for the government to close a publication,” read the report.
The report touches upon changes including the removal of term limits on the presidency, and reminds the opinion of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, in which it was stated that "explicit constitutional limitations on the successive terms of a president are particularly important in countries where democratic structures and their cultural presuppositions have not yet been consolidated."
The report stresses that, police arrested nearly 100 young persons in connection with protests critical of the authorities' response to the April 30 shooting at the State Oil Academy and on May 10, police arrested dozens of youths during several demonstrations and held them for several hours without access to lawyers or informing them of the basis for their detention.
“On January 2, approximately 150-200 persons attempted to protest Israel's actions in Gaza outside the Israeli Embassy in Baku. Police temporarily detained approximately 150 of them; of these, police charged and held 25 for several days. Journalists reported that force was used to break up the protest,” the report reads.
It is noted in the report that the law provides for freedom of speech and of the press and specifically prohibits press censorship; however, the government often did not respect these rights in practice. During the year the government took actions that further limited media independence.
“Although opposition parties continued to publish newspapers, and human rights activists were mostly able to conduct their work without fear of reprisal, the government penalized persons who criticized government officials or practices in some cases … A March referendum made a number of changes to the constitution, including several that limit freedom of the media. These included a prohibition on videotaping or photographing of anyone without their permission. The government also amended the law on mass media to make it easier for the government to close a publication. A State Media Support Fund established to assist newspapers in 2008 announced the first cash grants for 55 media outlets on September 1. While the fund provided grants to both opposition and progovernment newspapers, most commentators characterized the program as an attempt to constrain further an already tame press with financial subsidies.”
“The government prohibited Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the BBC from broadcasting on national FM frequencies and national television effective January 1. Without these international broadcasters, the public no longer had access to unbiased news on any widely available broadcast media,” it is noted in the report.     
The US State Department further noted that although the government released some journalists, several remained imprisoned or were jailed during the year on criminal convictions for libel and other charges supposedly unrelated to their work. International and local commentators believed that the government targeted the journalists due to their criticism of government figures and policies.
The names of imprisoned youth bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were also mentioned in the report, “On July 8, two men attacked youth activists and bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizade, who were dining with friends at a restaurant in Baku. Milli suffered wounds to his leg, and Hajizade's nose was broken during the assault. After Milli and Hajizade filed a complaint with the police about the attack, the police arrested them for purportedly starting the fight while releasing their assailants (see section 1.e.). Observers noted that the two assailants were significantly larger than Milli and Hajizade and believed that the authorities had arranged a provocation at the restaurant in order to prosecute Milli and Hajizade for their peaceful expression of support for reform via the Internet and alleged antigovernment activity.”
The report also alluded to the torture and beating of persons in police and military custody that resulted in at least four deaths; and the fact that law enforcement officials acted with impunity.
It is also emphasized in the report that Ethnic Armenian separatists, with Armenia's support, continued to control most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories.