Annual reports 2019: Azerbaijan in review – muted hope for 2020

January 20, 2020

On 13 January 2020 Arzu Geybullayeva published for the above-mentioned NGO a report on Azerbaijan in 2019.

It was a rather hectic year in 2019 in Azerbaijan, President Aliyev decided on a series of changes, layoffs and replacements of senior officials. For some a wave of reforms, for others yet another make-up, in view of the early parliamentary elections of 9th February On December 27th, 2019, former political prisoner and popular citizen journalist Mehman Huseynov disappeared after being detained for staging a solo protest in the heart of Baku. He was able to be reached only the next day. In his own account of the incident, Huseynov was abducted by a police gang, beaten, and taken to an unidentified location where he was then released. Huseynov was demanding the immediate release of rapper Paster (Parviz Guluzade), who was arrested a day earlier. [see for an earlier post on him: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/03/07/azerbaijan-harasses-human-rights-defenders-even-the-recipient-of-the-homo-homini-award/]….His case ended December 2018 with a bang, with freedom advocates across the world joining efforts in calling on the authorities to drop new charges against Huseynov, who was already serving a two-year jail sentence. 2019 began with continued efforts to ensure Huseynov’s release under the campaign #FreeMehman.

When President Ilham Aliyev began sacking some of his high-ranking officials in 2019, some observers were quick to hail a wind of change. When one of the oldest serving government representatives was let go, along with some other reshuffling, pundits applauded the long-awaited changes. Sadly these changes, in the long run, would mean little, especially when considering real progress and reforms. ……………

Much of the cabinet reshuffling took place following a weekend of protests in October. On October 19th, the National Council of Democratic Forces – an umbrella group of Azeri opposition groups – organised an unauthorised rally that was violently dispersed by the local police and resulted in many arrests of participants and organisers. Organisers and participants of the march demanded the release of all political prisoners, free and fair elections, and an end to economic injustice. The following day, a group of women activists took the streets demanding an end to all forms of violence against women. The march was the second of its kind, following the women’s march organised on International Women’s Day.

The crackdown against women activists was not surprising at all, considering President Ilham Aliyev’s personal views on gender equality, which he delivered during the centenary of Baku State University on November 26th, 2019. “We live in a traditional society, and we shall continue to do so. We must respect women, we must protect them, not the other way around. There is gender equality. We accept it. But we must also accept that we cannot live away from a traditional mindset and the young generation should know this […] I have said this before. We won’t integrate [into Europe] where there is no difference between men and women”.

Another example of these so-called reforms was the disciplinary measure taken against human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova. On November 27th, 2019, the Azeri Bar Association suspended Humbatova, who is also facing disbarment on the basis of a complaint from a past client and the alleged failure to pay several months of Bar membership dues, according to a statement issued by the International Bar Association in support of Humbatova. In her defense, Humbatova had admitted falling behind in her bar payments – however, the lawyer refutes the rest of the accusations. “The decision to suspend her license and seek her disbarment is an unambiguously disproportionate punishment. The case is seen as a part of the relentless persecution of independent lawyers in Azerbaijan. In recent years, a growing number of independent lawyers have been subjected to harassment, criminal prosecution and disbarment in retaliation for their work on high-profile, politically sensitive cases, especially those concerning human rights violations”, read the rest of the statement. Previously, the Bar disbarred human rights lawyers Irada Javadova, Yalchin Imanov, Alayif Hasanov, and Khalid Bagirov. These recent allegations also come months after President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on judicial reforms.

….

2019 brought some good news too. In March, about fifty political prisoners were pardoned. None of them, however, should have spent a second in jail in the first place. The news of some young candidates winning in December’s municipal elections was encouraging. Some of them, who did not make it as a result of gross electoral violations, have joined forces and set up a political “Movement ” bloc ahead of the extraordinary parliamentary election scheduled for February 9th, 2020. The bloc consists of activists, political party and youth movement members, and rights defenders. There is more awareness about women’s rights and there is hope 2020 will bring more positive change. Judging from last year, it is highly recommended to keep expectations low.

https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Azerbaijan/Azerbaijan-2019-year-of-make-up-198786

One Response to “Annual reports 2019: Azerbaijan in review – muted hope for 2020”


  1. […] Shahla Humbatova (Azerbaijan) Shahla Humbatova has worked as a defense lawyer in Azerbaijan since 2013, and is one of a handful of legal advocates who have been consistently willing to defend individuals facing punishment for exercising their fundamental freedoms.  She has bravely defended human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, youth activists, members of the political opposition, and others.  Her example has inspired other lawyers to better advocate for their clients in politically sensitive cases, and her courage in representing LGBT clients in a conservative culture has pushed civil society further down the path to tolerance.  She is one of only two female lawyers to take these cases on in a difficult environment in which human rights lawyers have regularly been harassed and threatened in social media, suspended from practicing law, and disbarred. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/annual-reports-2019-azerbaijan-in-review-muted-hope-for…%5D […]


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