NEW YORK. May 20, 2013: A United Nations report has implicated Azerbaijan and a Kazakhstan airline executive in violations of arms embargos against North Korea. The Associated Press acquired the report, to the U.N. Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea.
Among the violators was Azerbaijan, for buying anti-aircraft missiles from North Korea:
The panel... recommended sanctions against the Hesong Trading Corporation, a subsidiary of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., which was involved in trying to sell 70 North Korean portable anti-aircraft missiles to Azerbaijan. British arms dealer Michael Ranger was convicted in July 2012 of attempting to sell the missiles.
As an estimated 125 million viewers tuned in to watch the grand final of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden, on May 18, I could not help but think how different this year's Eurovision experience was from last year's, when the contest was held in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan became the host of the contest through Eurovision's normal process: the country whose entry wins the contest one year becomes host the next. Azerbaijan's competitors, Ell and Nikki, won Eurovision 2011, and so Baku was set as the location for Eurovision 2012.
BAKU. May 18, 2013: According to the local media reports, another Facebok activist in Azerbaijan - Rashad Ramazanov (he blogged under the name of Hagigat Agaaddin) was arrested and then subjected to torture while in police custody. Police arrested Rashad Ramazanov after his continued anti-government calls through Facebook postings. He was arrested on May 9 and charged with possession of drugs, a trumped up charge notoriously used by the police to arrest the political opponents of the Aliyev regime. The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety issued a statement calling for an independent investigation of the torture allegations against Rashad Ramazanov. Below is the full text of the statement:
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is appalled by reports that Ministry of Interior officials—as yet unnamed-- tortured blogger and activist Rashad Ramazanov a.k.a. Hagigat Agaaddin) during a custodian interrogation. The Azerbaijani authorities should establish an immediate and independent investigation into this barbaric case, hold accountable those responsible for Agaadin's arrest, torture, and ill-treatment, and immediately release the blogger who had been arrested for a crime no greater than expressing his political opinion online.
STOCKHOLM, May 17, 2013: One year after Eurovision in Baku, the persecution of dissidents in Azerbaijan continues – and even escalates. There is evidence that the increased pressure is an attempt to silence critical voices before the country’s presidential election in October 2013. On May 14, Civil Rights Defenders publishes the report, “No sweet songs for human rights defenders” showing that repression of civil society has reached new lows.
NEW YORK. May 15, 2013: Azerbaijani parliament's approval to extend criminal defamation laws to include Internet speech is a serious setback for press freedom in a country that severely curtails free expression already, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ calls on President Ilham Aliyev to veto the bill.
The local pressreportedthat members of parliament voted to amend the criminal code to extend punishment for slander and insult--articles 147 and 148 of the code respectively--to the Internet. Those found guilty of slander can be sentenced to a fine of up to 500 Azeri manat (US$637); corrective labor of up to one year; or jail time of up to six months. Insult charges carry a fine of up to 1,000 Azeri manat (about US$1275); one year of corrective labor; or imprisonment of up to six months, the Baku-based news agencyAPA reported.
BAKU. May 14, 2013: Today, the Azerbaijani Parliament adopted amendments to article 147 (slander) and 148 (insult) of the Criminal Code establishing a legal punishment of up to six months of imprisonment for slander and insult by the users of the social networks. The new amendments are primarily targeted at the Facebook activists who have recently been enjoying freedoms in criticizing the Azerbiajani government on the Internet without much pressures from the Azerbaijani government. The initiative to have these amendments adopted by the parliament belongs to the Attorney General of Azerbaijan Zakir Garalov. The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) issued a statement attacking the newly adopted bill as a serious step in the direction of stregnthening the authoritarianism in Azerbaijan. Below is the full text of the statement:
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns the adoption of the draconian amendments to the Criminal Code that allow for harsh penalties for defamation and insult posted on the internet. IRFS believes that the hasty adoption of this bill serves the purpose of having a chilling effect on critical bloggers and online activists, thus making citizens less active in the year of election.
BAKU. May 13, 2013: On May 11, the Imishli District Court sentenced the regional correspondent for the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Azer Ali to an administrative penalty of 200 manats. Azer Ali was arrested by the Imishli police on May 10, when he was trying to video-record the local protests against the regional authorities.
The same punishment was issued to then local activist of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (PFP), Vugar Gadirov.
They were arrested in Imishli on May 10 during the protest of the Depot district residents, who, as a sign of protest against the lack of pasture for grazing, brought about 150 head of animals to the city center. The police blocked the path of this unusual procession on Heydar Aliyev Avenue in Imishli and prevented journalists from recording the action.
BAKU. May 10, 2013: Today, the Azerbaijani government is celebrating a strange birthday party for the deceased president of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev. Heydar Aliyev, the former KGB general and a communist party boss who ruled Azerbaijan during the Soviet times intermittently from 1969 till 1988, became the president of Azerbaijan in 1993 after Abulfaz Elchibey, democratically elected president of the newly independent Azerbaijan, was overthrown in a coup d'etat. Heydar Aliyev became the president and retained his position through deeply flawed elections up until 2003 when he died and passed the presidency to his son Ilham Aliyev. Today, the Azerbaijan government is marking 90th anniversary of Heydar Aliyev with "Flower Holiday" festivities. The Azerbaijani government has spent 30 million manat (appr. $36,000) to decorate the downtown Baku with flowers shipped from all over the world.
KHUDAT. May 10, 2013: Yesterday, following a car accident involving a military officer and the local people in Khudat, an Azerbaijani region in northwest, the local people started massive anti-government protests. The local people have apparently been enraged by the insulting comments of a military officer. The Azerbaijani government quickly moved the Internal Troops to quell the protests. Four local residents were arrested and sentenced to 10 days in jail for taking part in an unapproved protest.
BAKU. May 9, 2013: A group of Azerbaijani non-governmental organizations issued a statement on recent plans of the government of the country to toughen punishment for several administrative offences.
We, the representatives of Azerbaijani civil society, severely condemn recently proposed legislative amendment which seeks extension of administrative detention period for certain group of administrative wrongdoings, and if adopted we will regard this as another attempt to restrict human rights in Azerbaijan.
As such, based on his right of legislative initiative, Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov submitted a bill to the Parliament aiming to amend certain clauses of the Code of Administrative Offences. The bill proposes tougher punishments for offenses described in the Article 298.11 and 298.22 (violation of the rules of organizing and conducting rallies, demonstrations, processions, etc) of the Administrative Offences Code, particularly extending the maximum period of administrative detention from 15 to 60 days. Similarly, maximum period of administrative detention for offences referred to in Article 3103 of the Code (wilful failure to obey legal lawful orders of a police or a military officer) is proposed to be increased from 15 to 30 days.
BAKU. May 8, 2013: On May 8, 1992 at 3.20 a.m. Armenian troops launched a campaign to seize Shusha city - the biggest Azerbaijani city in Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno Karabakh in Russian - ed.). Shusha was shelled till 6.00 a.m. and afterwards approximately one thousand Armenian soldiers launched an attack on Shusha from three directions supported by about 40 armored vehicles which the 366th Russian regiment earlier handed over to the Armenian forces in Mountainous Garabagh.
Azerbaijani military who participated in the battle of Shusha claim that Armenians widely used psychological pressure in this campaign being aware of suspiciousness of the Azeri side. On the eve of the attack Armenians called on the Azeris left to defend the city to save themselves, because "Shusha has been already sold." Armenians were also informed about the lack of discipline in the city, had the full information about the location of mine lines and because of this Armenian armored vehicles which started their march from Khankendi reached the walls of Shusha without any major casualties.
BAKU. May 7, 2013: Today, First South Caucasus Forum started with the participation of high ranking governemnt officials from South Caucasus. The Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev made a speech at the forum focusing mainly on the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the future of the occupied Azerbaijani territories in Mountainous Garabagh (Nagorno-Karabakh in Russian - ed.) and the surrounding regions. Ilham Aliyev described the conflict as a "major impediment" to regional development and integration. Aliyev said Azerbaijan wants to restore its territorial integrity and resolve the issue in accordance with international law. Ilham Aliyev also talked abouthis government's domestic policies claiming that he was carrying out the political reforms in that country and that the issues of democratization were a priority for his government.
BERLIN. May 6, 2013: The Azerbaijani authorities should immediately stop its campaign of forced evictions and demolitions in the capital, Baku, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also guarantee fair compensation to homeowners and residents, including those already evicted.
The controversial Winter Garden opens the week of May 6, 2013, in central Baku, where hundreds of residents were evicted to make way for the park, shops, and a parking lot. The authorities have planned a week of celebrations and events, including a speech by President Ilham Aliyev on May 10, marking the birthday of his late father, former President Heydar Aliyev.
WASHINGTON. May 5, 2103. Today, many Americans will be celebrating the 90th birthday of a corrupt foreign communist dictator … unknowingly. They will be attending the “Flower Day” event hosted in the National Mall in DC by a foreign lobbying group Azerbaijani-American Alliance (AAA).
By describing the event as a mere “Celebration of Azerbaijani Culture and Friendship”, AAA clearly and deliberately misrepresents the facts. It hides the real reasons behind the “Flower Day” festivities from residents and visitors of the US capital, whom AAA tries to trick into celebrating the late Azerbaijani dictator’s birthday.
BAKU. May 3, 2013: EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele says Azerbaijan must continue to meet its commitments on advancing democracy and human rights.
Speaking at the Azerbaijani Diplomatic Academy on May 3, Fuele expressed hope that Azerbaijan's October presidential election will be held fairly in accordance with Baku's commitments to the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Council of Europe.
SAN JOSE. May 3, 2013: The media freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has criticized Azerbaijan for not living up to its commitments to decriminalize defamation.
Dunja Mijatovic made the statement while attending events to mark World Press Freedom Day in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose.
Mijatovic said Baku pledged to decriminalize defamation in 2006 but that the government has recently proposed amendments that "go in the opposite direction."
BAKU. May 3, 2013: Azerbaijan in late April crossed a self-imposed “red line” in its relations with southern neighbor Iran by dispatching Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on a visit to Israel, Tehran’s arch-foe. Reasons for the timing of the move are not clear, but, so far, Tehran appears to be biding its time with a response.
While Israel and Azerbaijan – like Iran, a majority Shi’a Muslim country -- have maintained strong diplomatic, economic and military ties for years, Mammadyarov’s April 21-24 trip was the first time an Azerbaijani cabinet member had made such a high-profile visit to Tel Aviv.
BAKU. May 2, 2013: Azerbaijanis better start watching their online language. Any unkind word thrown into cyber space may soon result in a legal action if plans to censor publicly accessible virtual conversations go through.
The new draft law proposes making web-based profanity and libel a criminal offense. The amendments, brought to the Milli Majli's floor by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, suggest equalizing offline and online insults and libel. Depending on how hard and at whom an Azerbaijani Internet user swears, he/she could face a fine up to 1,000 manats (upwards of $1,274), 240 hours of community service or even incarceration. An online libel offense would result in a similar assortment of punishments.
BAKU. May 2, 2013:Georgia is in discussions with Azerbaijan to jointly produce Su-25 close air support jets, Azerbaijani military sources have told the news agency APA:
Military sources told APA that Georgia plans to produce the modernized versions of SU-25 aircrafts at the Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing Company (TAM). Tbilisi has addressed Azerbaijan for financing the project and establishing joint production. The Azerbaijani military circles welcomed the proposal, but the government will make a final decision.
If the project is implemented, certain part of the aircrafts may be produced at the military plants of Azerbaijan.
"Half the truth is often a great lie." -- Ben Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"
BAKU. May 2, 2013: The Azerbaijani presidential administration's Ali Hasanov had a saucy sound bite ready when World Press Freedom Day rolled around on May 2.
Speaking at an event devoted to the annual global effort to highlight the importance of the so-called fourth estate, Hasanov asserted that "no media outlet [in Azerbaijan] can claim its activity is restricted," according to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.
BAKU. May 1, 2013: There are some big decisions to be made by investors in Azerbaijan’s oil and gas sector this year, with up to $30 billion at stake at the Shah Deniz Stage 2 gas development, planned to come on stream in 2018. Statoil is fretting about political uncertainty in the EU. But it and other investors should be closely watching political developments at the production end in the run-up to November’s presidential elections, amid signs that the long-standing pact between Aliyev and Azerbaijani citizens – trading a measure of stability for an authoritarian grip on civil life – is showing cracks.
BAKU. May 1, 2013: Prosecution switched the criminal charges against the arrested opposition officials - Ilgar Mammadov, leader of REAL Opposition Movement, and Tofig Yagublu, deputy chairman of Musavat. Both opposition officials were arrested in early February and charged with organizing riots in Ismayilli on January 23-24 this year. After the international organizations questioned the motives of the Azerbaijani government and called for the release of the opposition officials, Prosecution dropped the charges under article 233 (organizing public disorder) and re-instituted the criminal investigation under article 220 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan (organizing mass acts of violence). The punishment under the new charge is much harsher and can result in up to 12 years of imprisonment for the accused. Ilgar Mammadov's lawyer Fuad Agayev told Turan News Agency that by such actions in the year of the presidential elections, the Azerbaijani government wanted to show to the international community that it could imprison virtually anyone under the trumped up charges.
BAKU. April 30, 2013: Democratization activists in Azerbaijan are increasingly pessimistic about what they describe as the West’s lack of support for reform and the protection of basic rights in the energy-rich South Caucasus country.
The soured mood follows a new wave of arrests of youth activists, the closure of the Western-funded Free Thought University, an alternative education center, and a scandal over offshore companies reportedly linked to President Ilham Aliyev’s family.
BAKU. April 29, 2013: The newspaper Azadlig reports that on April 27, inspectors of the Ministry of Transportation attacked two journalists of the opposition Azadlig newspaper while the latter tried to video-record the inspectors muscling the taxi drivers. Inspectors of the Ministry of Transportation have previously been reported to have engaged in beating the taxi drivers who refused to pay the illegal monthly payments collected by the Ministry. It has been reported that it is a routine practice of the Ministry of Transportation to employ athletic looking persons to serve as inspectors to intimidate the taxi drivers to pay the illegal monthly payments several times the amount of the license fee they have to pay to be able to operate their taxis.
WASHINGTON. April 27, 2013: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reports persistent campaigns of intimidation against two of its Radio Azadliq journalists, Khadija Ismayilova and Yafez Hasanov, in retaliation for their reporting. The threats to these Azerbaijan Service reporters come days before a UN-mandated review of Azerbaijan's human rights performance and months ahead of presidential elections that President Ilham Aliyev has pledged will be free and fair.
BAKU. April 26, 2013: Azerbaijan's ambassador to Ukraine and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Kostyantin Hryshchenko attended the gala opening on April 25 of a park in Kyiv dedicated to the late president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, who died in 2003.
The park features a bronze statue of the late leader, who is the father of current Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. It was funded by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR).
It also has free Wi-Fi.
Azerbaijan's ambassador in Kyiv, Einulla Madatli, described the park as Azerbaijan's gift to the Ukrainian people.
BAKU. April 25, 2013: Turan News Agency reports that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided to review the Azerbaijani political prisoner Ilgar Mammadov's case ahead of the normal schedule. On April 9, the ECHR began to communicate with Ilgar Mammadov's lawyers, putting his case on a fast track. Ilgar Mammadov's lawyer Fuad Agayev told Turan News Agency that ECHR submitted its questions to the Azerbaijani government and that the Azerbaijani government has to present its answers to ECHR by June 18.
Ilgar Mammadov is the leader of the opposition REAL Movement. He was expected to run for the president at the upcoming elections in October 2013. Mammadov was arrested in February when the police accused him of inciting violence among the local residents during Mammadov's visit to Ismayilli. The visit took place directly after the anti-government riots in Ismayilli and Ilgar Mammadov, together with another opposition figure Tofig Yagublu (also imprisoned under similar charges of inciting violence in the region), visited the region to meet with the people and address the problems which lead to the violent congfrontation of the local people with the Azerbaijani government.
BAKU. April 23, 2013: Jamil Guliyev, chief of "Culture" TV Channel became the president of the Public TV Channel (ITV), a major government controlled TV channel in Azerbaijan. The first media reports about Jamil Guliyev's expected appointment to the position of the president of ITV came up four days ago, together with the news about the dismissal of the Education Minister and his replacement with a younger and Western educated Mikayil Jabbarov. Today, Jamil Guliyev's appointment was formalized through a procedure of elections at the ITV Board, a fully controlled procedure at the Board which is fully controlled by the Azerbaijani government.
ITV's former president Ismayil Omarov stepped down by simply not forwarding his candidacy for re-elections. Interestingly, Ismayil Omarov poisoned his arrows by giving an "explanatory" statement about his decision not to re-run for the position at ITV. It was a common knowledge that Ismayil Omarov was pushed aside by the president Aliyev's team in an attempt to carry out a cosmetic reform in the government controlled TV Channel, but here is how Ismayil Omarov explained his decision to step down: "We are now integrated to Europe and ITV itself models itself after the European news structures...Since I already led ITV for two terms I thought it would be wrong for me to run for the third term, even though the ITV Charter allowed it." The twist here is that Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani president who in essence fired Ismayil Omarov, arranged an entire referendum in 2009 in order to abolish the presidential term limits so that he could run for his third presidential term in October 2013.
WASHINGTON, DC. April 22, 2013: On April 19, the U.S. State Department released its "Country Reports On Human Rights Practices" for 2012, highlighting crackdowns on civil society, struggles for democratic change, and threats to freedom of expression. The section of the report on Azerbaijan says Azerbaijan’s most significant human rights problems included restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly and the unfair administration of justice. Click here to access the full document It also cites the intimidation, arrest, and use of force against journalists as well as human rights and democracy activists. The Azerbaijani government responded to the U.S. State Department's report with a statement from Ali Hasanov, chief of the Public Political Department of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan. In an interview to local APA News Agency, Ali Hasanov said: "Speaking specifically about the U.S. State Department's report, I would like to note that the United States of America is our strategic partner... Therefore we have quite a normal attitude towards State Department's interest to the human rights situation in Azerbaijan being reflected in its reports. However, the subjective character of the report, non-disclosure of the sources of the information, distortion of some of the facts, and more importantly, not inquiring into the position of the official government institutions of Azerbaijan to those issues, provide an ample basis to question the objectiveness of that report."
BAKU. April 19, 2013: President Ilham Aliyev dismissed Minister of Education Misir Mardanov. Western educated Mikayil Jabbarov will serve as the new Education Minister in Ilham Aliyev's cabinet. The president's move was regarded by local political experts as a pre-election move to show some action to back up the president's rhetoric in fighting against corruption. Misir Mardanov, like many other ministers in Ilham Aliyev's government, has been holding his position for the last 15 years. Ilham Aliyev seems to have elected to sacrifice his least powerful team member in the light of the popular pressures on Aliyev to move against more powerful old-timers, like Safar Abiyev, Minister of Defense for the last 19 years, Ramil Usubov, Minister of Interior for the last 19 years, Kamaladdin Heydarov, who held the positions of the Chief of the Customs Service and then Minister for Emergency Situations for the last 20 years, Ramiz Mehdiyev, chief of the Presidential Administration for the last 20 years, and many others.