Human Rights Watch on Azerbaijan in 2017

REUTERS/Orhan Orhanov

REUTERS/Orhan Orhanov

On 18 January, the international organization Human Rights Watch released an annual report about the state of rights and freedoms around the world in 2017.

The report's section about Azerbaijan says that the government intensified its crackdown on its critics. The courts sentenced at least 25 journalists and activists to long periods of imprisonment in politically motivated and unfair trials. Dozens more were detained or under investigation, persecuted, and banned from traveling abroad.

To give just a few examples of prominent human rights scandals of 2017:

In January, the courts sentenced a group of 18 people, including prominent theologian Taleh Baghirzadeh, to long periods of imprisonment, although the defendants were reportedly tortured in custody.

In March, video blogger Mehman Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly libeling the police.

In May, Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party (PFAP) Deputy Chairwoman, Gozal Bayramli, was arrested on charges of smuggling. Investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was kidnapped in Tbilisi and illegally delivered to Azerbaijan, where he was charged with illegally crossing the border and smuggling a large sum of money into the country. That same month, the government blocked access to several opposition websites, including the Azerbaijani service of Radio Liberty, the newspaper Azadliq, and the website of Meydan TV.

In July, a court convicted Faig Amirli, the financial director of the opposition newspaper Azadliq, on charges of inciting religious hatred, and tax evasion. Fuad Ahmadli, another PFAP activist, was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of misusing personal data.

In August, Mehman Aliyev, the director of Turan News Agency, was arrested on charges of tax evasion.

In October 2017, parliament passed amendments banning lawyers without bar membership from representing clients, which may further reduce the number of lawyers willing to take on politically sensitive cases.

Dozens of journalists and activists convicted in politically motivated trials remained in prison. Among them is Ilgar Mammadov, leader of the opposition movement Republican Alternative (REAL). He remained in prison despite a 2014 European Court of Human Rights judgment finding his imprisonment illegal.

Also still behind bars were journalists Seymur Hazi and Nijat Aliyev; youth activists Ilkin Rustamzadeh, Bayram Mammadov and Murad Adilov; and opposition politicians Mammad Ibrahim and Asif Yusifli.

The Azerbaijani government continued punitive measures against NGOs, making their work impossible. Several NGO leaders are still banned from traveling outside the country.

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