U.S. State Department report details widespread human rights violations in Azerbaijan

July 10th, 2015

 

 

 

According to the document, circulation rates of opposition and independent newspapers remained low, not surpassing 5,000 in most cases. Opposition newspapers were available outside Baku only in limited numbers due to the refusal of a number of distributors to carry them. It was also noted that during the past year 59 court cases were initiated against journalists or media outlets, with plaintiffs demanding $3.1 million in compensation. The report emphasized that the majority of independent and opposition newspapers remained in a precarious financial situation and continued to have problems paying wages, taxes, and even private businesses were pressured not to advertise in them. The demolition of some newspaper kiosks and the further ban on newspaper sales in metro stations presented further barriers to independent media.

 

It was noted that despite constitutional protections for freedom of speech, government restrictions regarding subjects considered politically sensitive have intensified. International media has also faced pressures, states the report. Foreign broadcasters, including Voice of America, RFE/RL, and the BBC, are prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies. It was noted that Presidential Administration Head Ramiz Mehdiyev accused RFE/RL staff of subversive activity; the radio’s Baku bureau was closed and its staff were forcibly taken to the police station for interrogation during the weekend. It was further stated that over the previous two and a half years, at least 50 independent and opposition political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders were subject to unfounded criminal charges, and there were 64 physical assaults against journalists during the year. The attacks were said to have mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and Yeni Musavat newspapers, Turan Information Agency, and Obyektiv Television. The physical assaults against Turan journalist and Democracy and NGO Development Resource Center director Ilgar Nasibov and Voice of America journalist Taptig Farhadoglu during coverage of a protest at Baku State University were cited as examples.

 

Jailed journalists Rauf Mirgadirov and Parviz Hashimli were also mentioned; it was said that both of the journalists were known for coverage of corruption and human rights abuses.

 

Regarding investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, the report notes that two days prior to her arrest, Presidential Administration Head Ramiz Mehdiyev accused journalists, including Ismayilova, of working against the government in a press article published on December 3  2014.

 

Among those targeted, the report also named human rights defender Emin Huseynov, director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, who was forced into hiding in fear of his arrest on unfounded charges; during a previous arrest he had suffered health problems.

 

The report also addressed internet freedoms. It was said that there were serious claims that the government monitored the internet communications of activists, and noted that during the past year, most youth activists were charged based on online criticism of alleged government corruption and human rights abuses.

 

Some domestic observers were quoted stating that the government’s selection of participants for state-sponsored study abroad programs was biased and took political affiliation into account.

 

Regarding freedom of assembly, the report states that despite domestic legal protections, the government has severely restricted this right. It was noted that the authorities had at times responded to peaceful protests and gatherings by using force and detaining protesters. As an example, it was noted that when hundreds of Baku State University students gathered to protest administrative changes on February 2015, police briefly detained four individuals. It was further stated that rising tensions the next day resulted in the police arresting and beating a protester, Huseyn Novruzlu, and dozens of students were taken to the police department for questioning.

The report also covered freedom of association. Problems with registering NGOs and obstacles to NGO activities were discussed. It was noted that the bank accounts of most independent NGOs have been frozen, three NGOs were officially closed and the activities of more than 30 were suspended. The report also highlighted the obstacles faced by foreign NGOs when registering their branches in Azerbaijan.

 

The U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report, released on 25 June, detailed widespread human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The report noted that though domestic legislation guarantees freedom of speech and press freedom, the government has failed to respect these rights, and continues to restrict these fundamental freedoms.

The report noted that politically motivated charges were brought against journalists and media outlets in order to intimidate them. It was noted that journalists faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. At least 12 journalists and bloggers have become political prisoners. It stated that one of the country’s two leading media rights organizations ceased operations in August, and that its director was forced to go into hiding. The other organization was said to have significantly limited its activities.

 

According to the document, circulation rates of opposition and independent newspapers remained low, not surpassing 5,000 in most cases. Opposition newspapers were available outside Baku only in limited numbers due to the refusal of a number of distributors to carry them. It was also noted that during the past year 59 court cases were initiated against journalists or media outlets, with plaintiffs demanding $3.1 million in compensation. The report emphasized that the majority of independent and opposition newspapers remained in a precarious financial situation and continued to have problems paying wages, taxes, and even private businesses were pressured not to advertise in them. The demolition of some newspaper kiosks and the further ban on newspaper sales in metro stations presented further barriers to independent media.

 

It was noted that despite constitutional protections for freedom of speech, government restrictions regarding subjects considered politically sensitive have intensified. International media has also faced pressures, states the report. Foreign broadcasters, including Voice of America, RFE/RL, and the BBC, are prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies. It was noted that Presidential Administration Head Ramiz Mehdiyev accused RFE/RL staff of subversive activity; the radio’s Baku bureau was closed and its staff were forcibly taken to the police station for interrogation during the weekend. It was further stated that over the previous two and a half years, at least 50 independent and opposition political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders were subject to unfounded criminal charges, and there were 64 physical assaults against journalists during the year. The attacks were said to have mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and Yeni Musavat newspapers, Turan Information Agency, and Obyektiv Television. The physical assaults against Turan journalist and Democracy and NGO Development Resource Center director Ilgar Nasibov and Voice of America journalist Taptig Farhadoglu during coverage of a protest at Baku State University were cited as examples.

 

Jailed journalists Rauf Mirgadirov and Parviz Hashimli were also mentioned; it was said that both of the journalists were known for coverage of corruption and human rights abuses.

 

Regarding investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, the report notes that two days prior to her arrest, Presidential Administration Head Ramiz Mehdiyev accused journalists, including Ismayilova, of working against the government in a press article published on December 3  2014.

 

Among those targeted, the report also named human rights defender Emin Huseynov, director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, who was forced into hiding in fear of his arrest on unfounded charges; during a previous arrest he had suffered health problems.

 

The report also addressed internet freedoms. It was said that there were serious claims that the government monitored the internet communications of activists, and noted that during the past year, most youth activists were charged based on online criticism of alleged government corruption and human rights abuses.

 

Some domestic observers were quoted stating that the government’s selection of participants for state-sponsored study abroad programs was biased and took political affiliation into account.

 

Regarding freedom of assembly, the report states that despite domestic legal protections, the government has severely restricted this right. It was noted that the authorities had at times responded to peaceful protests and gatherings by using force and detaining protesters. As an example, it was noted that when hundreds of Baku State University students gathered to protest administrative changes on February 2015, police briefly detained four individuals. It was further stated that rising tensions the next day resulted in the police arresting and beating a protester, Huseyn Novruzlu, and dozens of students were taken to the police department for questioning.

The report also covered freedom of association. Problems with registering NGOs and obstacles to NGO activities were discussed. It was noted that the bank accounts of most independent NGOs have been frozen, three NGOs were officially closed and the activities of more than 30 were suspended. The report also highlighted the obstacles faced by foreign NGOs when registering their branches in Azerbaijan.