US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bridget Brink Visited Azerbaijan Meeting with Ilham Aliyev
BAKU. November 23, 2015: Today, Bridget Brink, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, visited Baku meeting with the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. Bridget Brink is on a regional tour visiting Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. During the meeting with Brink, Aliyev talked about his recent conversation with the US President at the G20 summit in Antalya, the successful bilateral cooperation between the US and Azerbaijan for many years. Azerbaijan has over 100 political prisoners, including Khadija Ismayilova, award-winning journalist of the US-funded Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe (Azeri Report).
BAKU. November 19, 2015 (Turan): The US Trade Mission with the participation of officials of the Department of Commerce and representatives of 14 American companies on November 18-20 are on a visit to Azerbaijan to discuss the possibility of the development of relations in the field of commerce and business representatives of government agencies and local entrepreneurship.
The US delegation includes representatives of the companies Baxter, Bloomberg LP, Capstone Turbine, Dow, Honeywell, Globalise, Langan, Miyamoto International, Osisoft, P & G, Thomson Reuters, Turner International, Wayback's Burgers, WSP / Parsons Brinkherhoff.
The mission is headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Department of Commerce, Michael Lally.
On November 18, US Ambassador Robert Cekuta hosted a reception in honor of the mission.
WASHINGTON. November 16, 2015: Once again, the Iranian State TV aired a racist show insulting Iran’s largest ethnic population – the Azerbaijani people. An Iranian State TV aired a “comedy show” where an Azerbaijani was portrayed as someone who mistakenly uses a toilet brush instead of a toothbrush because according to the comedy show an Azerbaijani wouldn’t know the difference between a toilet brush and a toothbrush. For decades, racism, discrimination and harsh treatment of non-Persian ethnic minorities in Iran became the Persian-dominated regime's official state policy. Every now and then, the media outlets controlled by the regime openly deliver a racist message in the form of TV shows, movies or kid's educational programs on state media sparking angry protests by an offended non-Persian minority.
BAKU. November 12, 2015 (RFE/RL): Human rights defender Arif Yunus, whose case attracted worldwide attention when he and his wife were arrested in Azerbaijan in 2014 on suspicion of spying for Armenia, has been released from jail due to his deteriorating health.
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports that the Baku Court of Appeals on November 12 granted Yunus's release at the request of his lawyers.
In August, Yunus was sentenced by a Baku court to seven years in prison after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion. His wife, Leyla Yunus, was sentenced to 8 1/2 years' imprisonment on the same charges. Neither has begun serving their sentences, although they remained jailed, and their cases relating to charges of treason are still pending.
PARIS. November 11, 2015: Maryam Rajavi, leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, hailed the protests of the Azeri people in Iran, who started protests in a number of big cities in Iran, following an insult to the Azeri people in a comedy show broadcasted on the Iraninan TV. In that TV show, there was an episode when an Azeri arived in a hotel in Iran and mistakenly used a toilette brush instead of a tooth brush. Portrayal of the Azeri people as backward and uncivilized has been carried out by the Persian nationalist elite in Iran for decades. As a result of such nationalist policies, Azeris, the largest national minority in Iran, does not have any Azeri language schools in the country. With the independence of Azerbaijan following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Azeri minority in Iran has become more assertive demanding more rights in Iran.
On Monday, November 9, the cities of Tabriz, Urmia, Zanjan, Ardebil, Khoy, Maragheh, Marand, Naghadeh, Meshkinshahr, Ahar, Moghan and other cities in Eastern and Western Azerbaijan, Zanjan and Ardebil provinces were the scenes of large popular demonstrations in protest to the Iranian regime’s insult of Azeri compatriots in the state television that is under Khamenei’s control. Moreover, there were also gatherings and protests in the many cities, including Tehran and Shiraz. Demonstrations and clashes continued through part of the night in cities such as Tabriz.
WASHINGTON. November 6, 2015. Lately, Azerbaijan's lobbying in the US came under public scrutiny. Located at the edge of Europe in volatile Caucasus region, Azerbaijan is ruled by President Ilham Aliyev - the man who was recognized as the planet's most corrupt person and who inherited the top post in fraudulent "elections" from his late father, a former KGB general and leading Soviet communist boss. The country has one of the world's worst records on democracy, human rights and corruption. However, the ruling Aliyev regime spends significant fortunes to prop up its image abroad and secure support for itself from the US and European governments. With top dollars spent on influential lobbyist firms, grandiose events, and expensive gifts to Western officials and "experts", Azerbaijan's charm blitzkrieg even earned a name for itself: "caviar diplomacy".
BAKU. November 2, 2015: Azerbaijan’s November 1 vote was no cliffhanger, with President Ilham Aliyev’s Yeni (New) Azerbaijan Party, or YAP, winning as it has all parliamentary elections since 1996. What was different this year is that the region’s standard election-observation group, from the OSCE/ODIHR, was not there to assess the quality of the vote in an environment some Western human-rights watchdogs argue has gone from bad to worse.
The absence of these observers appeared to clear the stage for a variety of positive assessments — something entirely natural, in the government’s view.
But senior presidential advisor Ali Hasanov, for one, did not miss them.
The requested size of the OSCE/ODIHR mission “is a result of their biased attitude” toward Azerbaijan, local outlets reported him as saying. He also cited supposed "financial problems" caused by their presence, and questions “about their accommodation" -- this last despite Azerbaijan's hosting of the 2015 European Games.
But Hasanov argued that the matter goes beyond numbers. "We think that the number of observers is not important for observing a democratic election," he reasoned. "The most important thing is the created conditions, the satisfaction of the voters with [the] voting process and the opinion of the groups monitoring the election."
BAKU. November 1, 2015 (RFE/RL): Voters in Azerbaijan cast ballots in a parliamentary election boycotted by Europe's largest monitoring agency and all of the tightly controlled South Caucasus country's established opposition parties.
President Ilham Aliyev's ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) was expected to maintain its dominance in the November 1 vote, which came amid a persistent government clampdown on dissent that shows few signs of flagging.
The former Soviet republic's 5,547 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time and voting was set to continue until 7 p.m. Some 5 million Azerbaijanis were eligible to vote.
Azerbaijan's established opposition parties have refused to participate in the elections, though some individual opposition candidates are running for spots in the 125-seat parliament, which is dominated by YAP.
The established opposition parties said that the government's policy of offering free television air time to the ruling party, but requiring that all others pay commercial rates, made it unaffordable for them to campaign and reach a wide audience.
STRASBOURG. October 29, 2015: Some 5 million Azerbaijani citizens will be called Sunday to elect 125 members of Parliament from a list of almost 1,200 candidates. This large number of candidates does not mean the voters will be able to make a free and informed choice.
Elections in this country, which sits on rich reserves of natural resources at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, have been marred by fraud and irregularities since the country became independent in 1991.
Both the latest parliamentary elections in 2010 and those of 2005 have led to a conspicuous number of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights, which found Azerbaijan in breach of the right to free elections for reasons ranging from irregularities in the electoral process to arbitrary invalidation of election results and ineffective examination of complaints about electoral abuses. On October 8, the Court again urged Azerbaijan to reform its unfair elections process.
WASHINGTON. October 28, 2015: Amid a sharp and prolonged oil price slump, which has been hurting petro-states since early this year, the lobbyists in the U.S. capital are about to lose one of their lavish clients – Azerbaijan.
Over the years, representatives of the oil-rich post-Soviet country with poor human rights records have lobbied on Capitol Hill, the real financial engine of Washington, by meeting with several Congress members and other decision-makers along the way to polish up their tarnished image.
Now, however, with the decline of oil income and the country’s petroleum revenues, Azerbaijan’s lobbying money is reportedly drying up ‘like never before,’ three former lobbyists who closely follow Azerbaijan told TURAN’s Washington correspondent.
BAKU. October 26, 2015 (Azadliq.org): It appears, Ramin Hajili did not disappear but simply left Azerbaijan last night. His wife who spoke to Azadliqradiosu earlier, confirmed that Hajili is found and that she has already requeted the police to stop looking for him.
"He called me and told me he left the country and that he is fine. He said he will return after he resolves some of his problems. I doubt its because of some kind of pressure", said Hajili's wife.
Ramin Hajili, member of Azerbaijan Europe Movement was planning to run for this year's parliamentary elections scheduled to take place November 1.
With #MenBuOyunuPozaram (I will wreck this game) hashtag Hajili shared the folloiwng message on his Facebook page: "In an election which won't be recoginzed internationally, which won't consider peoples' voices, and which won't give any chance to other candidates I call on our country to mobilise in order to wreck this 'election game' played by the government which has wasted state powers on fraud".
The nomination comes from a Göteborg, Sweden-based group that is not quick to respond to questions. What is known about the group – a certain Swedish Peace Agency (SPA) – is that it is a self-described international organization launched in 2010 to further world peace. The president is 40-year-old Rezha Aghapoor, who was born in “Iranian Azerbaijan,” Iran’s northern province dominated by ethnic Azeris.
SPA did not respond to questions about its sponsorship sources. The organization does not appear to be listed in Sweden’s roster of charities and does not have a working website in Swedish.
Its reasons for nominating Mehriban Aliyeva for the organization’s peace prize are not clear. “Individuals or governmental institutions active in defence of human rights can be nominated for the Prize,” according to the agency's nomination submission rules.
BAKU. October 22, 2015 (Azadliq.org): On October 21, Ilgar Mammadov's lawyer Fuad Agayev confirmed the threat to Mammadov's life after Mammadov was attacked by two men at the jail facility he is currently being held at. Reports of Ilgar Mammadov, getting beaten on October 16 were originally shared by Mammadov's other lawyer Javad Javadov.
In an earlier interview with AzadliqRadiosu Javadov said following the attack, he requested the Ombudsman office, Prosecutor General and the Ministry of Justice to investigate the case.
In addition, the social committee of the Ministry of Justice promised to look into the attack however no developments or progress was made in that regard.
Ilgar Mammadov was senteced to seven years in 2014 for allegedly being behind the organization of regional uprising in Azerbaijan's northern town of Ismayilli, which took place in 2013.
BAKU. October 22, 2015(Azadliq.org): Authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested seven officials with the National Security Ministry, accusing them of abuse of power just days after the ministry’s chief was sacked.
The arrests come as President Ilham Aliyev’s government continues to tighten its grip on opposition groups, independent media, and overall political life in the oil-rich, ex-Soviet republic on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
The Prosecutor-General's Office said in an October 20 statement that the security officials were arrested on suspicion of "illegal interference in the activities of business entities."
No further details were given.
Azerbaijani media reported that those arrested included Natavan Mirvatova, who heads the ministry’s technical operations administration and was awarded a medal for her work two years ago.
On October 17, Aliyev’s office announced the dismissal of National Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov, who had served since 2004, just after Aliyev became president, and was widely seen as a loyal ally to the Azerbaijani leader.
BAKU. October 19, 2015 (Turan): Ilgar Mammadov, imprisoned leader of the opposition Real movement, was severely beaten on October 16 in Correctional Facility Number 2, where he is serving his sentence, reported his lawyer Javad Javadov. Ilgar Mammadov lawyer filed a complaint with the Azerbaijani Justice Minister Fikrat Mammadov, Attorney General Zakir Garalov and the Ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova. Mammadov's lawyers reported that the beating took place at 15:30, shortly after Ilgar Mammadov met with his lawyer Fuad Agayev. Mammadov was summoned to the jail's office building, where he was taken to the deputy head of the colony by the name of Shakir.
The latter and the employee by the name of Chingiz began to beat Mammadov, hitting him on the head. Then he was pushed to the office of Eyvaz Askerov, where three jail administration officials continued beating him. Mammadov told his lawyers, they knocked him down and started kicking him. The director of the jail administration threatened Mammadov that he would not be able to leave the prison alive.
During the meeting with Mammadov, his lawyer Javad Javadov saw the injuries and bruises on Mammadov's neck and head. In his complaint, the lawyer requested the immediate investigation of the beating and demanded that Mammadov's safety be guaranteed.
Among the causes of pressure on the opposition most probable is the version of his refusal to write a petition for clemency to the President. The international community has long been urgently demanding his release, but the authorities ignored these demands, trying to obtain a petition for clemency from Mammadov.
BAKU. October 16, 2015 (Azadliq.org): On October 15, the Baku Court of Appeal, held a preliminary hearing on the appeal case of journalist Khadija Ismayil.
At the opening of the hearing, the presiding judge, Ilgar Murguzov asked Ismayil whether she had any objections to the court committee.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me. There isn’t one fair judge within Azerbaijan’s judiciary system. If you have a reason, then go ahead and object”, said the journalist in her response to the question.
Later during the hearing, Khadija Ismayil asked the court committee that Yalchin Imanov, the lawyer who was her defender when she was arrested in December is reinstalled as her defense. Imanov was taken off the case after prosecutor office had him testify as a witness in the criminal investigation against AzadliqRadiosu.
The public prosecutor denied this request, saying reinstating Imanov as her defense would be against the law.
Then, Ismayil’s lawyer Fakhraddin Mehtiyev asked the court to remove Ismayil from the glass cage. The lawyer said her rights to consult with her attorneys are violated as long as she is kept inside the cage.
BAKU. October 15, 2015 (Azadliq.org): Meydan TV’s writer, translator and editor Gunel Movlud confirmed the news of two of her brothers being detained on October 13. Vakil and Raji Imanovs were detained earlier today and accused of drug trafficking.
The family is shocked. Gunel Movlud’s father, Vazir Imanov says he is completely stunned that both brothers are detained. And the charges are absurd says the father. “They have never used marihuana. I can assure you of that, not even once. Perhaps they might have given it to someone but never used it themselves. I swear to God, I don’t believe, that these boys were growing marihuana and selling it.”
“They both have jobs”.
Answering the questions of AzadliqRadiosu startled father did not rule out the possibility of the arrest being the result of his daughter, Gunel Movlud’s work. “I resigned on September 10. I was a research assistant at a diagnostic center. But after my boss received phone calls from Baku telling him I had to resign, I signed the papers.
BAKU. October 13, 2015 (Azadliq.org): On October 12, the Baku Court of Appeal held its preliminary hearing based on the appeal of Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus attorneys.
Upon her arrival to the court room, rights defender Leyla Yunus said, "Since October 7, I have been denied of my rights to phone calls and meeting my relatives".
Yunus, who is the Director of the Peace and Democracy Institute said it was Iftikhar Gurbanov, deputy of the Medical Office of the Ministry of Justice and Murad Mammadov, chairman of the commission on examination and treatment of persons infected with hepatitis virus acting under of the Ministry of Health who were responsible for this. "It is with their order that my phone calls and meetings with relatives and friends were banned".
Leyla Yunus walked into the court room using a cane.
The presiding judge asked Leyla and Arif Yunus for their opinion. "I am not feeling well. And I do not understand what you are talking about", said Arif Yunus in his response.
WASHINGTON. October 9, 2015 (Contact.az): Since early 2010s, groups and countries that Azerbaijani government sees as friends have changed dramatically with official state propaganda promoting a negative attitude about the West and a positive attitude about Russia.
‘That approach is wrong,’ says David Kramer, senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and former president of Freedom House. ‘Beyond Azerbaijan’s own history and experience with Russia if they haven’t learned anything from Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, then they’re in big trouble,’ Kramer says.
In an interview with TURAN’s Washington D.C. correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu, former assistant Secretary of State, who last month led the US delegation at the OSCE Human Dimension Interim Meeting, also spoke about current human rights concerns in Azerbaijan and their impacts on the country’s relations with the West.
Q: As we’re meeting at a dramatic time for wider Caucasus region with the news from Russia’s severe attacks in its neighborhood,to escalation of ceasefire violations in South Caucasus, Presidents of Georgia and Armenia appeared in Washington last week to discuss their countries’ security concerns. Azerbaijan’s Aliyev wasn’t among them, and interestingly, Baku officials were silence about it, unlike previous years…
What is happening between Azerbaijan and the West and what do these all mean when it comes to the security challenges that the country is facing in its region?
VIENNA. October 9, 2015 (EHRAC.org): Prominent Azerbaijani human rights lawyer, Intigam Aliyev, has been awarded the International Bar Association’s (IBA) Human Rights Award 2015 during the Rule of Law Symposium at their Annual Conference in Vienna. Intigam was nominated for the award by the Human Rights House Foundation, Freedom Now, and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. This recognition of Intigam’s important work in the field of human rights comes six months after he was convicted on falsified charges of illegal business, misappropriation, tax evasion, abuse of office and official forgery, and imprisoned. Consequently, Intigam was unable to attend the awards ceremony, but was represented by his nineteen-year-old son, Necmin Kamilsoy.
WASHINGTON. October 8, 2015: House ethics investigators have released their report on an improper congressional trip to Azerbaijan that the House Ethics Committee refused to release because it had asked the investigators to stand down.
"Respectful of the principles of transparency and accountability in the House ethics process, and with assurance that it will not prejudice any action by the Department of Justice, the OCE Board has voted to release the (report), including the Findings of Fact" that the Ethics Committee had withheld, OCE said in a statement on its website Wednesday. OCE also said it declined to cease its investigation because there was no evidence at the time of the request that the Ethics Committee had an investigation of its own in progress, which is a prerequisite for a stand-down order.
The release is part of an ongoing battle between the House Ethics Committee and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that was created in 2008 to review and refer matters to the committee for further action. Since the OCE was created, their has been ongoing tension between the two ethics watchdogs over how their roles should complement each other. The Ethics Committee has regularly — and sometimes forcefully — rejected OCE's findings that lawmakers have misbehaved.
STRASBOURG. October 7, 2015 (Azadliq.org): October 7, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland informed the Committee of Ministers of his decision to withdraw the Council's participation in the joint working group on human rights issues in Azerbaijan.
The joint Working Group on human rights issues was formed in 2008 with the goal to improve and protect human rights in Azerbaijan through implementation of international human rights standards.
Following an agreement between Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland and the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the Joint Working Group met for the first time in 2014. At the time it was composed of 18 human rights defenders, members of parliament and officials of the Presidential Administration.
BAKU. October 5, 2015 (Azadliq.org): Baku Court sentenced Azerbaijan Popular Front Party advisor Mammad Ibrahim to two months in pretrial detention.
Ibrahim’s lawyer, Yalchin Imanov says the decision was so unexpected that it is hard to even process and comment on it.
Mammad Ibrahim was sentenced to two months in pretrial detention based on Article 221.1 [Hooliganism] of the criminal code. He was detained following an official complain from a man named Mikayil Guliyev. Guliyev said Ibrahim attacked him unexpectedly and ripped his shirt on September 29. However prior to his arrest, Ibrahim in an interview with AzadliqRadiosu said it was indeed Guliyev who attacked him.
Lawyer Imanov says the administrative detention decision is groundless. “In fact this decision illustrates just how well courts in Azerbaijan operate. The article itself falls under the ‘less serious crime’ category. In fact, lets just hypothetically say that he did commit this crime. During the investigation period, the person under the investigation cannot be sentenced to administrative detention.”
BAKU. October 5, 2015: Ever eager to use its underground energy riches to fuel its above-ground ambitions, Azerbaijan has selected an unnamed manufacturer to produce a second satellite. But along with developing a space industry, the South Caucasus country has now forayed into another, far more down-to-earth business, too — producing bicycles.
The satellite, of course, is the celebrity. Azerbaijani officials said on October 5 that they have made their pick from international bidders to supply AzerSpace-2. The bidders include two US companies — the Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK and Palo Alto, California-based Space System Loral; China’s Great Wall Industry Corp and France’s Airbus Defense and Space.
Communications Minister Ali Abbasov said the selection will be announced soon. “The launch of the satellite is expected in late 2017 or early 2018,” the minister told Trend.az.
Azerbaijan bought its first satellite, AzerSpace-1, from Orbital Sciences Corporation, now part of Orbital ATK, a few years back. The deal came with some help from the US Export-Import Bank. The satellite’s launch from a space center in French Guiana in 2013 came amidst various efforts by Azerbaijan, brimming with energy wealth, to boost its presence internationally.
BAKU. October 1, 2015: Turan News Agency reports that the Azerbaijani Attorney General Zakir Garalov threatens the local nonprofit organizations and media outlets with new investiations and prosecutions based on the alleged violations of the Azerbaijani laws. Specifically, the Azerbaijani Attorney General accuses the Azerbaijani nonprofit organizations of not following Azerbaijan's laws on NGOs. Garalov says many local NGO are not officially registered and they do not report to the Azerbaijani government about the funds they receive from international donors. Zakir Garalov also says the foreign media outlets operating in Azerbaijan violate the local laws by not siging proper employment agreements with local journalists. Garalov also accused the local nonprofit organizations of underreporting the fundings they receive from international donors. Garalov threatens with prosecutions saying if the local NGOs and journalists continued violating the laws they will be brought to justice.
The Azerbaijani law enforcement has launched a crackdown against the local civic institutions since the spring of 2014. Since the start of this crackdown, dozens of local civic activists and local journalists have been arrested, many local nonprofit organizations' activities have been shut down, their bank accounts have been frozen and their entire office equipment have been subjected to confiscation and seizure followed by intrusive investigations and show trials aimed at "exposing" the so-called "fifth columns" of the West.
BAKU. September 28, 2015 (RFE/RL): Police in Baku have searched the apartment of a contributor of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.
The September 26 operation in Islam Shikhali's rented apartment was related to charges of tax evasion, according to the search warrant.
Shikhali's notebook, video camera, microphone, mobile phone, all bank checks, as well as his ID card were confiscated.
All personal documents, except Shikhali's passport, were later returned to the journalist.
During the search, Shikhali was not home and his roommate, Orkhan Rustamzade, was taken to the Prosecutor’s Office where he was questioned for one-and-a-half to two hours.
Rustamzade was released on the same day and asked to tell Shikhali that he was invited to the Prosecutor’s Office for questioning on September 28.
The raid comes at a time when President Ilham Aliyev's regime in Azerbaijan has been under increasing censure for its record on civil society and media freedoms.
This criticism intensified recently following the imprisonment of rights activists Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif as well as another RFE/RL contributor, Khadija Ismayilova. The charges against the Yunuses and Ismayilova were widely believed to have been fabricated in both cases.
WASHINGTON. September 28, 2015: John Boehner’s Speakership was a setback for Congressional ethics. He backslid on a number of important reforms, and helped to return the Ethics Committee to its traditional role of covering up wrongdoing by incumbent members of Congress.
Boehner ally Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), the Chairman of the Ethics Committee, is currently orchestrating a whitewash of apparent House rules violations related to a junket by ten House members to Azerbaijan in 2013.
On July 31, the Ethics Committee announced that it had found “no evidence” that the ten broke House rules. It plans “no further action regarding this matter and considers it closed.”
For ethics groups, however, the matter is far from closed. In fact, both liberal and conservative groups, along with reform advocates like Norm Ornstein, are demanding the Committee release a report on the trip compiled by a separate entity, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).
According to the OCE report, the junket was sponsored by nonprofit groups, but was actually paid for by SOCAR, the state oil company of Azerbaijan. NLPC Chairman Ken Boehm asserted, “We believe that the report will confirm that the Committee covered up obvious violations of House rules.”
BAKU. September 24, 2015: Google, Bing, Yahoo, all move aside. In a first for the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan is working on its own web-search service. Officials in the tightly controlled energy-exporter say that both national security and commercial considerations prompted the idea.
Under the guidance of the Ministry of Communications, the government body that oversaw the launch of the world’s first Azerbaijani satellite, Azerbaijani coders have already developed a web crawler and are now working on a software application, Trend news agency reported on September 23.
A government-run technology developer, Dilmanc, said that the national search engine will bring more information security to Azerbaijan. The ministry has not elaborated about perceived threats, but some rights activists likely would surmise that government critics are among the ministry’s main concerns.
WASHINGTON. September 23, 2015: Almost all the news coming out of Azerbaijan these days is bad. On August 9, an independent Azerbaijani journalist, Rasim Aliyev, was beaten and killed. A few days later, civil society activists Leyla and Arif Yunus were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on politically-motivated charges. And on September 1, a court sentenced award-winning journalist, Khadija Ismaylova, to seven and a half years in jail on absurd charges of tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power.
International reaction to the sentencing of the Yunuses was quick and outspoken, with various human rights organizations describing the verdict as a “total travesty” and “shocking and frankly shameful.” Britain’s Minister for Europe, David Lidington, called the verdict “politically motivated.” Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, tweeted, “Azerbaijan’s authorities reach new low in sentencing of Leyla and Arif Yunus.”
The U.S. State Department, by contrast, issued a far weaker statement, saying the United States was “deeply troubled” by the prison sentences. In response to the murder of Rasim Aliyev, tthe U.S. issued a statement from its embassy in Baku; nothing was said in Washington. The United States was once again “deeply troubled” by Ismailova’s sentencing, according to the State Department deputy spokesman.
Instead of condemning these developments in the strongest terms, the U.S. recently sent three envoys — Special Envoy Amos Hochstein, Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard Hoagland, and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas — to Baku to discuss energy, Trans-Caspian, and security issues, respectively. Even as the human rights situation gets worse by the day, Farkas reportedly declared Azerbaijan a “strategic partner” of the United States.
BAKU. September 22, 2015: There is something about Steven Seagal that really appeals to authoritarian leaders across the former Soviet Union. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev now has become the latest regional strongman to host the Hollywood b-list action hero and BFF of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Stevan Seagal noted that he was pleased to visit Azerbaijan, saying that he was deeply impressed by what he saw in the county,” announced the presenter of an English-language, government video that showed Seagal chatting away with Aliyev on September 21. The actor, the announcer assured viewers, was impressed by the high-level conduct of the European Games, a continental sports contest hosted by Azerbaijan in June. Aliyev thanked his aikido black-belt master visitor for the kind words and could not help but agree that the Games were, indeed, fabulous.
PARIS. September 18, 2015 (RSF): Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned about Shirin Abbasov, a young reporter held incommunicado for the past two days. He is the latest victim of the government’s persecution of journalists working for Meydan TV, a Berlin-based online TV station that covers Azerbaijan.
Abbasov disappeared without trace in Baku on 16 September while on his way to the university. His lawyer, who has not been allowed to see him, thinks he is being held by the MIA, a police unit that is supposed to combat organized crime.
Reporters Without Borders has been told that he has been placed in detention for a 30-day period.
Aytaj Ahmedova, another journalist working for Meydan TV, was also abducted on a Baku street on 16 September by plainclothesmen, who questioned her for several hours and then released her.
“We are very worried to learn that Shirin Abbasov is being held incommunicado,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
BAKU. September 18, 2015 (RFE/RL): Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has thrown down the gauntlet in the face of criticism from the European Union, accusing the bloc of being "anti-Azerbaijani" and mocking European values amid the ongoing refugee crisis.
During a joint press conference with visiting Czech President Milos Zeman in Baku on September 15, Aliyev blasted a recent European Parliament resolution that condemned his country's human rights situation and called for the release of all political prisoners and imprisoned journalists.
"The resolution is groundless, biased, and it is a political provocation based on lies," Aliyev said of the September 10 resolution.
The nonbinding resolution, passed by a vote of 365 to 202, with 72 abstentions, decried the "unprecedented repression against civil society in Azerbaijan."
The resolution demanded that Azerbaijan end its crackdown on civil society and human rights work and suggested that the EU's negotiations on a strategic partnership agreement with Azerbaijan be suspended as long as Baku "fails to take concrete steps in advancing respect for universal human rights."
Speaking earlier on September 15 at the opening ceremonies of a new school in Baku, Aliyev called on the country's youth to stay away from "foreign influence and the so-called Western values that our people do not share."
BAKU. September 16, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): It was not without criticism and harsh statements. Some officials described it unfair, others biased. Here is a compilation of some of the statements from various government officials in Baku.
Ali Panahov, Vice President of the Yeni Azerbaijan party youth branch:
"The resolution adopted by the European Parliament against our country and which is far from Azerbaijan's realities is an example of double standards and disregard of democratic values".
Ali Ahmadov, Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister:
"It seems that this authoritative European organization is afflicted with an anti-Azerbaijani disease. The members of the European Parliament (MEP), who voted for the adoption of this resolution, are well aware that Azerbaijan is the most successful country in the post-Soviet area, as well as in Europe. Most of them visited Baku at different periods and admired the rapid development, renewal and economic growth of Azerbaijan in a short period of time".
BAKU. September 14, 2015 (Azadliq.org): Azerbaijan’s diplomat to the Netherlands, Nahid Jafarov is yet another diplomat to be dismissed from his service. Jafarov, was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shortly after his sacking but instead of going back home, Jafarov opted for asking for political asylum in the Netherlands says AzNews.az.
AzNews.az reports Jafarov was dismissed due to his friendship with Arif Mammadov, the diplomat whose dismissal was the first in what is turning to be a reoccurring matter between the MFA and its diplomats stationed abroad.
Arif Mammadov was the former ambassador to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation at the EU. Jafarov suspected that upon his return he will be questioned about his friendship with Mammadov and perhaps even get arrested reports AzNews.az.
Mammadov, who is now described as the “insurgent diplomat” who was first of the country’s diplomats to openly express his disappointment with the government in Azerbaijan and its policies during the fire earlier in May, which took the lives of 15 innocent men and women, including five children.
Nahid Jafarov himself made no comments or statements so far.
STRASBURG. September 11, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): September 10, European Parliament adopted a resolution on Azerbaijan, highlighting the grave situation in the country. In their resolution on Azerbaijan, the MEPs called for, "immediate and unconditional release from jail of all political prisoners, human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society activists, including Khadija Ismayilova, Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus, in line with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and / or a prompt investigation into the death of the journalist Rasim Aliyev."
The resolution, which was adopted by 365 votes to 202, also called to end crackdown on civil society and human rights work and put on hold negotiations for a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Azerbaijan until "the government takes concrete steps in advancing respect for universal human rights".
Member of the European Parliament, Marietje Schaake (ALDE/D66), following the resolution commented, "Over the past months the human rights violations have systematically increased with excessive sentences for journalist Khadija Ismayilova and human rights defenders Leyla Yunus and her husband and there are many more in prison. Civil society, political opposition figures, journalists and activists face violence, intimidation and repression. Silent diplomacy and dialogues have not rendered the needed improvements, must speak out now.”
BAKU. September 11, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): September 11, according to press office at Azerbaijan's MFA, the head of the EU delegation, Malena Mardi was summoned today to speak with the Deputy Foreign Minsiter Mahmud Mammad Guliyev.
Guliyev said the MFA "sharply condemned" the resolution adopted yesterday, September 10 on Azerbaijan. "The biased document, is destructive to the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU. It seriously impedes the future prospects" said Guliyev.
The Deputy Foreing Minister criticized the adoption process saying it was done in hasty manner without any consultations.
"The resolution is full of biased and made up accusations on the human rights record in the country".
Such methods are doomed for failure said Guliyev.
"In addition, the humiliative language of certain provisions goes beyond ethical norms and frameworks. The absurd and outrageous accusations against the country are totally unacceptable and seriously undermines the organization's credibility. In addition, the calls for targeted sanctions and visa bans are absolutely unreasonable and unacceptable".
BAKU. September 11, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): "The European Parliament has obviously lost its sense of reality and allowed itself be used in the hands of certain Western circles".
In a statement to AZERTAC Presidential aid voiced his concern and discontent with yesterday's (September 10) resolution on Azerbaijan adopted at the European Parliament. Hasanov described the resolution as well as other recent Azerbaijan related statements the result of certain Islamophobic, pro-Armenian cricles' and their inability to handle Azerbaijan's independent political rhetoric and its successes.
"I can tell you with much assurance that these non-stop actions, unsubjective resolutions are directly linked to the incitement of these circles. It has become a common practice to adopt resolutions based on absurd claims especially during big international events taking place in Azerbaijan. Such statements are controlled by Islamophobic fractions outside of the European Parliament."
"This resolution adopted ahead of the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan is nothing but an attempt to damage yet again our country's reputation by the management of this structure. I would like to remind them, Azerbaijan is not EU member therefore it has no responsibilities and the Parliament's resolution is not but a piece of paper to us- just like previous ill-intentioned documents".
Ali Hasanov said these documents cannot be taken seriously given the suspicious origin of information gathered in preparation of these resolutions. Instead Hasanov urged EP to think of the growing refugee crisis.
PARIS. September 9, 2015: Azerbaijan's first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, enjoyed a warm welcome from French officials during her high-profile visit to Paris last week, including a tete-a-tete with President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace.
A new investigative report, however, reveals that a team of French journalists gave a significantly frostier reception to Aliyeva, whose husband has ruled the oil-rich Caucasus nation with an iron fist since succeeding his dying father in the job a decade ago.
The program, Cash Investigation, broadcast on French national television on September 7, shows its reporter, Elise Lucet, approaching the first lady as she opens a photo exhibition held at a city hall in the heart of Paris and titled Azerbaijan, Land Of Tolerance.
"Is your country really a land of tolerance for you?" the reporter asks.
"Yes, of course," answers Aliyeva, looking slightly alarmed.
The journalist then points out that Azerbaijan, a country with one of the world's worst human rights records, has "many political prisoners in jail."
"How can you say that? It's not true," Aliyeva responds as she tries to inch away, advising the journalist to go and "get correct information."
BAKU. September 4, 2015 (OCCRP.org): Friends and family of President Ilham Aliyev make free use of two luxury yachts worth US$ 59 million that are owned by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), the organization charged with managing the country’s oil wealth for its citizens.
That means the yachts deprive Azerbaijani citizens of about US$ 12 million per year in oil profits—the amount experts say such yachts typically cost to run. That’s in addition to the US$ 2,000 worth of fuel per hour that the yachts consume.
It’s not the first time SOCAR has been so accommodating to the Aliyevs. The First Family previously used SOCAR to register their US$ 25 million London mansion.
Former crew members on one of the yachts told OCCRP that Aliyev, his family and inner circle have regularly used the yachts, often when visiting glamorous destinations such as Saint-Tropez and Cannes on the French Riviera.
Three other former crew members told reporters for the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI) that they were often sent on long trips across the Mediterranean to mislead media or just so the Azerbaijani VIPs could have lunch on the boats – at a cost of more than $100,000 in fuel.
BAKU. September 1, 2015 (RFE/RL): An Azerbaijani court has sentenced investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova to 7 1/2 years in prison after convicting her on charges that rights groups have called retribution for her reports on corruption involving senior government officials.
The Baku court on September 1 found Ismayilova, a contributor to RFE/RL, guilty of tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power.
In addition to the prison sentence, Ismayilova, 39, was also barred from holding public office for three years and was fined $300 to cover legal expenses. The court found her not guilty on a charge of inciting an individual to attempt suicide, after the complainant withdrew his accusation.
Ismayilova, who has reported extensively on the financial dealings of long-ruling President Ilham Aliyev and members of his family, has strongly denied the charges and called the trial a "scam" meant to silence her work.
The verdict and sentence drew swift condemnation from colleagues, human rights groups, and media freedom organizations.
Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL’s editor in chief, said Ismayilova's trial was "an example of politics, not law."
BAKU. Augut 31, 2015 (Radio Azadliq): Today, August 31, Khadija Ismayil read her final statement in court. The prosecutor cut her short. Here is Khadija Ismayil's full statement.
Dear court attendants, the court committee, which has turned into the observers of this hearing, and those who have taken the seats of the people who are genuinely interested in attending the hearing:
I am not sure what your intention is in holding this express court, but I think the repression machine is about to collapse. Surely, we can see this as a result of the collapse in the oil market, but there are other reasons as well. One of these reasons is us!
Many are familiar with the ability of Azerbaijan’s law-enforcement system to invent crimes. But for years the honest citizens of this country, its honest journalists (and I am not talking about the ones who have been kissing up to the prosecutor, of course), and its human rights defenders have been exposing the shame of our judicial system. They have forced the repression machine to cover its disgraceful acts with even more shame. The more lies that were exposed, the more they were forced to tell more lies. The prosecutor's office and the court employees had to resort to more dishonesty to cover their lies.
From the onset, this hearing proved that the “envelope salaries” of tax and prosecutor’s office employees do not fulfill their needs, and in an exchange for illegal privileges they are unable to even prepare a proper slander case.
WASHINGTON. August 29, 2015: Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani journalist working for the congressionally funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has been sitting behind bars in Baku since December and faces up to 19 years in prison.
With the number of journalists jailed around the world surging, a case like hers hardly seems like news these days. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, last year 221 journalists were locked up, an increase of 10% on the previous year and the second-highest number since CPJ began keeping track of such data in 1990.
But Ismayilova's case deserves special attention for what it reveals about today's authoritarians -- and us.
Today, the United States needs a closer fusing of its interests and values when dealing with authoritarians around the globe. Following such a path increases Washington's bargaining power precisely because the authoritarians come to see that they can't play one American interest off against another. In turn, such a policy also heartens those states who are paying the price for keeping their own turn to liberalism on track. And no less important, U.S. administrations reinforce their credibility with global publics who, rather than see policy hypocrisy on Washington's part, see an America acting consonant with its stated principles.