Azerbaijan sees crackdown on HRDs and civil society as a whole

September 3, 2013

A recent 100-page report by Human Rights Watch, “Tightening the Screws: Azerbaijan’s Crackdown on Civil Society and Dissent,” documents the dramatic deterioration of the government’s record on freedom of expression, assembly, and association in the past 18 months. The authorities have arrested dozens of political activists on bogus charges, imprisoned critical journalists, broken up peaceful public demonstrations, and adopted legislation imposing new restrictions on fundamental freedoms.HRW_logo

Human Rights Watch documented the arrest and imprisonment of several high-ranking members of opposition political parties, government critics with large followings on social media, and people who have frequently been involved in political protests. “A vibrant public debate through the media and freedom to participate in peaceful public demonstrations are part and parcel of free and fair elections,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “It will hardly be a free and fair vote if so many people who criticize the authorities and report the news in the country are in jail or otherwise harassed into silence.”  Human Rights Watch conducted more than 100 interviews and documented the cases of 39 individuals detained, charged, convicted, or harassed between February 2012 and August 2013. The government of Azerbaijan has for many years had a poor human rights record, but the number of arrests, the adoption of harsher laws, and extensive government efforts to stop and prevent peaceful public protests indicate a new concerted government effort to curtail political and civic activism in the country, HRW said. Politically active youth have become particular targets of this crackdown. For example, in March and April 2013, the authorities arrested seven members from the youth movement NIDA, which means “exclamation mark” in Azeri. All seven are active Facebook and Twitter users who frequently posted criticism about alleged government corruption and human rights abuses. Officials claim that the activists were involved in an alleged plan to instigate violence at a peaceful protest. Others arrested or imprisoned include at least six journalists, two human rights defenders who had worked on getting assistance to flood victims, and a lawyer who tried to secure compensation for people forcibly evicted from their homes. The authorities have used a range of trumped-up criminal charges, including narcotics and weapons possession, hooliganism, incitement, and treason to lock up these critics.“

via the Albany Tribune’s:  Azerbaijan Witnesses Crackdown On Civil Society.

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