In its annual World Report 2014 New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized Azerbaijan’s human rights record on a number of issues: freedom of speech and assembly, arrests of political activists and journalists, restrictive changes in the legislation, forced evictions, etc.
According to the report, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers criticized the October 2013 presidential elections, in which current president Ilham Aliyev won with 84.5 percent of votes, thus remaining on the position for the third term. The criticism came due to “58 percent of polling stations observed as bad or very bad,” as well as “intimidation of opposition political activists, a restrictive media environment, and violations of the freedoms of assembly and association.”
Human Rights Watch spoke of politically motivated arrests on a variety of charges, including possession of drugs and firearms, hooliganism, incitement of violence and others. Among the arrested in 2013 were politicians and members of opposition parties like Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of REAL movement and Tofiq Yagublu, deputy chair of Musavat party, both arrested in the aftermath of the uprising in the city of Ismayilli and charged with inciting violence; Yadigar Sadigov, advisor to Musavat party chairman, charged with hooliganism and sentenced to six years in prison on January 13; Ilkin Rustemzade, Free Youth Organization activist, charged with hooliganism and later with inciting violence; seven members of NIDA movement, arrested and charged with possession of drugs and firearms, and inciting violence in the aftermath of the March protests in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku and others.
Criminalization of online defamation and numerous arrests of journalists, such as Avaz Zeynalli, editor-in-chief of Khural newspaper, sentenced to nine years for tax evasion and extortion; Araz Guliyev, editor-in-chief of Islamist Xeber444.com sentenced to eight years for illegal possession of firearms, inciting religious hatred, organizing public order disturbance and others; Hilal Mammadov, editor-in-chief of Tolishi Sado newspaper, sentenced to five years for possession of drugs, treason and others, made it to the report, as well as smear campaigns against Radio Liberty’s Khadija Ismayilova, and Yafez Hasanov and famous writer Akram Aylisli.
The report failed to mention the arrest of Anar Mammadli, Chairman of the Azerbaijani Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS) on December 16,
which brought the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan to 144.
Human Rights Watch criticized violations of freedom of assembly, mentioned dispersals of several peaceful protests around the country, subsequent arrests and increased fines in 2013, as well as violations of freedom of association and incidents of torture and ill-treatment.
The organization spoke of international response:
“The European Union, United States, and other international and regional actors and institutions expressed concern about the deterioration in Azerbaijan’s human rights record but did not impose any consequences for it.”