Freedom House: democracy on the retreat in Azerbaijan

Freedom House today published its annual report Nations In Transit report, which documents the democratic development of 29 nations from the former Soviet Union, Balkans, and Central Europe. The report is a comprehensive, comparative study that measures progress according to the following indicators: electoral process, civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption.

The report particularly singled out Azerbaijan for a "new intensity" to its multiyear crackdown on activists and investigative journalists. Azerbaijan was classified as a “consolidated authoritarian regime” with a democracy score of 6.75, with 7 being the lowest level of democratic progress. The rating reflects the period from January 1 through December 31, 2014. Meydan TV discussed the key findings with report's author, Sylvana Kolaczkowska.

What are the key takeaways concerning Azerbaijan from this report? 

Azerbaijan is the only country in Nations in Transit whose ratings have declined more steeply than Russia's over the last decade. This trend continues in the 2015 report due to the ongoing crackdown on dissent, especially the legal reprisals and other forms of harassment against activists, journalists and bloggers, and NGOs--many of which were forced to close during the year.

What areas (civil society, electoral process, media, etc.) have witnessed the steepest decline in terms of your scores? And why?

Every single one of Azerbaijan's ratings has declined significantly in the last decade and nearly all of them have accelerated their decline in the last five years. However, the biggest drops of the last few years have been in judicial framework and independence and civil society. Azerbaijan’s corrupt and subservient judiciary plays a major role in the government’s ongoing crackdown against perceived regime threats.  

How does Azerbaijan fare compared to other "nations in transit"?

By now, the country has the democracy score of an entrenched Central Asian dictatorship. If Nations in Transit had a "worst of the worst" list, Azerbaijan would be near the top.

A number of reports have been released recently documenting Azerbaijan's poor human rights record. How can these reports inform decision-making in DC or Europe vis-a-vis Azerbaijan?

United States and European leaders must refuse to cooperate in the illusion that Azerbaijan is any less despotic than Russia or Tajikistan. It is not a strategic ally and not an appropriate host for European contests of any kind.