Posts Tagged ‘Azerbaijan’

2020 International Women of Courage Awards by the U.S. State Department

March 4, 2020

Today, Wednesday 4 March 2020, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo hosts the Annual International Women of Courage Awards at the U.S. Department of State to honor 12 women from around the world.  The First Lady of the United States Melania Trump will deliver remarks to recognize the accomplishments of these women. For more on this and 7 other international awards that have word COURAGE in their name, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-women-of-courage-award.

The 2020 announcement comes remarkably quickly on the heels of last year’s, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/usas-international-women-of-courage-awards-for-2019/

This year will bring the total to 146 awardees from 77 countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials. Following the IWOC ceremony, the 12 awardees will participate in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) visiting various cities throughout the country, before reconvening in Los Angeles for the conclusion of their program on March 16. The 2020 awardees are:

Zarifa Ghafari (Afghanistan) After successfully launching and operating a women-focused radio station, Afghanistan’s Zarifa Ghafari became mayor of Maidan Shar, in conservative Wardak province, at the age of 26.  When she showed up to start work, a male mob appeared and she was forced to flee.  Despite death threats, Ms. Ghafari came back, defying her conservative critics and their narrative that a woman is unfit to lead.  She then withstood a walkout by all of the male members of her office.  She later demonstrated ability and courage in tackling her town’s problems.  Despite fierce opposition from vested interests, she successfully launched a “Clean City, Green City” campaign that reduced littering.  Ghafari’s courage has inspired girls and women not only in her community and the wider province, but across the country.  In her capacity as a trail-blazer and door-opener for a new generation of young women, she has helped empower the women of Afghanistan.

Lucy Kocharyan (Armenia) Using her platform as a journalist, Kocharyan has championed children with mental health issues and has emerged as a leading voice in the fight against psychological, physical, and domestic violence against women and children.  Through her dedication and resolve, Kocharyan became famous for launching “Voices of Violence” in August 2018.  She has become a spokesperson on gender-based violence in Armenia and has continued to speak out despite harsh criticism – from people on the street who yell “shame” as she passes by, to parliamentarians speaking out against her and threatening her with lawsuits.  She successfully started a conversation about domestic and sexual violence that is slowly leading to some action. Gender-based violence is a pervasive problem throughout Armenia, where traditional social norms regarding masculinity, femininity, gender equality, and the division of household tasks remain rigid, making her achievements and impact all the more impressive.

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-2020/]

Ximena Galarza (Bolivia) Ximena Galarza is a Bolivian journalist with over 25 years of experience. She has worked as a reporter, a television presenter, and news editor on some of Bolivia’s most important news channels including Red UNO, Cadena A, and TVU. Across her extensive career, Galarza has interviewed hundreds of politicians, academics, intellectuals, artists, and experts. She has also trained journalists to better inform the public of their rights and obligations. Galarza’s work has supported democracy in Bolivia and exposed corruption and violations of democratic freedoms. Since 2015, Galarza has hosted the program Jaque Mate (Check Mate) on TVU, one of Bolivia’s most prestigious news programs. In 2019, two of Galarza’s interviews impacted Bolivia’s history by demonstrating fraud in the October 20 presidential elections.  The electoral irregularities were later confirmed by an independent analysis from the Organization of American States.

Claire Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) Claire Ouedraogo is the President of the Songmanegre Association for Women’s Development (Association féminine songmanegre pour le développement), an organization she founded that focuses on eliminating female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and promoting female empowerment through family planning education, vocational training, and micro-credit for women in the rural and underserved Center North region of Burkina Faso. She also serves as a senior advisor on the National Council to Combat Female Genital Mutilation. She is an active member of the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights. In 2016, the prime minister of Burkina Faso nominated her as an Ambassador of Peace for her work in empowering rural women. Despite the increased threat of terrorist attacks and violent acts against civilians in Bam Province, Mrs. Ouedraogo continues her courageous work on behalf of vulnerable women threatened both by FGM/C and terrorism.

Sayragul Sauytbay (China) Sayragul Sauytbay was born in Ele Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, China.  She attended medical university and worked as a doctor, teacher, education director, and headmaster. In July 2016, Sayragul and her family attempted to move to Kazakhstan but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) confiscated her passport and prevented her from going with her husband and children.  From November 2017 to March 2018, Sayragul was forced by the CCP to teach Chinese to ethnic minority people in a detention camp.  In March 2018, Sauytbay fled to Kazakhstan to avoid being sent back to the camps, where she feared she would die.  Subsequently, Sauytbay become one of the first victims in the world to speak publicly about the CCP’s repressive campaign against Muslims, igniting a movement against these abuses.  Her testimony was among the first evidence that reached the broader international community of the CCP’s repressive policy, including both the camps and the coercive methods used against Muslim minorities.  Sayragul and her family received asylum in Sweden, where they now live.

Susanna Liew (Malaysia) Following the February 2017 abduction of her husband, Christian pastor Raymond Koh, allegedly by state agents, Susanna Liew has fought on behalf of members of religious minorities who disappeared in Malaysia under similar circumstances—including Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy, and Ruth Sitepu—or who face persecution for their beliefs.  Susanna actively pursued justice for her husband and others during the Malaysian Human Rights Commission’s (SUHAKAM) 2018-2019 public inquiry into enforced disappearances and continues to push the government to investigate these cases and prosecute those responsible.  Despite police harassment and death threats, she continues to advocate for her husband and others, not because of her faith or theirs, but because of their rights as Malaysians.  Susanna and Raymond founded Hope Community in 2004, a non-profit organization that works with the poor, needy, and marginalized.  She previously served as a school principal and educator.

Amaya Coppens (Nicaragua) Coppens is one of the leaders of the 19th of April Student Movement in Nicaragua. She participated in numerous protests against the Sandinista government and the violent, repressive tactics deployed by its security forces. In September 2018, she was abducted by Nicaraguan police from her residence after participating in a peaceful protest. She was released in June and continued to speak out against the regime in Nicaragua. She had the opportunity to repatriate to Belgium during her first captivity, but refused. On November 14, Coppens was imprisoned again when she and 12 other activists attempted to bring water to mothers of political prisoners on hunger strike. She and other political prisoners were released by the regime on December 30, 2019.

Jalila Haider (Pakistan) Known as the Iron Lady of Balochistan, Jalila Haider is a human rights attorney and founder of “We the Humans – Pakistan”, a non-profit organization to lift local communities by strengthening opportunities for vulnerable women and children. She specializes in defending women’s rights and provides free counseling and legal services to poverty-affected women. The first female attorney of her Hazara community, Haider led a peaceful hunger strike to recognize the right to life for the Hazara following a series of targeted attacks. Ms. Haider has taken up the cause of many other vulnerable communities. As Balochistan’s President of the Women Democratic Front and Balochistan’s branch of the Aurat (Woman’s) March, she fought against violence against women in public spaces, at work, and at home.

Amina Khoulani (Syria) Khoulani is a survivor of the Assad regime’s detention and torture centers, which have arbitrarily detained over 140,000 Syrians, and has dedicated her life to helping the families of forcibly disappeared Syrians.   A long-time civil society activist, she fled Syria in 2014 after her release from prison. She was imprisoned for six months for “peaceful activism” and her husband detained for two and a half years at the notorious Sadnaya Prison. They survived, but her three brothers died while in regime custody.  From this devastating experience, Khoulani rededicated her life to seeking information and justice for the families of the disappeared. She is a founding member of “Families for Freedom”, a women-led movement launched in 2017 by families who’s loved ones have been detained and disappeared in Syria. Forced from her home and country, living under constant threat as a refugee without government representation, she continues to advocate for human rights, democracy, and peace in Syria.

Yasmin al Qadhi (Yemen) After obtaining her journalism degree, Yasmin Al-Qadhi was one of the first women to write articles for local newspapers during the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests in Sanaa’a.  When the civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015, Yasmine and her sister Entisar established the Marib Girls Foundation.  Through the foundation, she works with senior army officials to combat child recruitment and obtained the military’s commitment to release any child recruited or detained.  She fostered support for women displaced by the conflict by coordinating with the local and international community.  She also raised awareness by co-producing a film about the negative effects of displacement on women and children. Yasmine still resides in Yemen, a tribal society where women are discouraged from working in public spaces. She is working to change social norms and has become a role model in her society.  Both at home and abroad, she encourages women’s empowerment and meaningful participation in civil society and the UN-led peace process.

Dr. Rita Nyampinga (Zimbabwe) Rita Nyampinga has been a human rights defender for more than 35 years, fighting for gender equality in the workplace since she joined a trade union in 1983.  She is also a trained mediator, and a mentor for girls and young women in leadership.  Her experiences during detention led her to form the Female Prisoners Support Trust to support women and children in detention and raise awareness of the appalling conditions they face. Dr. Nyampinga continues to serve on several boards including Women Coalition of Zimbabwe, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Women Academy on Political Leadership Excellence, and Women AIDS Support Network.  Her goal is to see a world that protects and respects the rights of prisoners through a just and fair legal system that is nondiscriminatory based on gender.  In 2010 she became the Social and Economic Justice Ambassador for Zimbabwe’s Coalition on Debt and Development.  Dr. Nyampinga won the Female Human Rights Activist of the Year in 2014 from Alpha Media House.

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2020 International Women of Courage Award Recipients Announced

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

Arsenal and Chelsea are not the only ones strugggling in Azerbaijan on 29 May

May 23, 2019

Baku’s Olympic Stadium is hosting the Europa League final between Arsenal and Chelsea Wednesday 29 May 2019 and is also the venue for four games in next year’s European Championship. I will certinaly watch the match but will keep in mind Amnesty International’s warning that we should not let Azerbaijan hide human rights abuses behind football.  Sports washing is a phenomenon that deserves more attention, see e.g.:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/22/andrew-anderson-the-dangerous-game-of-sportswashing/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/03/fifas-second-report-on-human-rights-misses-sustainable-approach/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/sports-and-rights-alliance/

The decision to stage the Europa League final in Baku has drawn criticism from fans and human rights groups.
The decision to stage the Europa League final in Baku has drawn criticism from fans and human rights groups. Photograph: Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

We must ensure that Azerbaijan isn’t allowed to sportswash its appalling human rights record as a result of the football fanfare,” Amnesty International’s UK director, Kate Allen, said. “Azerbaijan is in the grip of a sinister human rights crackdown, with journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders being ruthlessly targeted. Unfair trials and smear campaigns remain commonplace.

LGBTI people have been arrested, and even people fleeing the country have been harassed and pressured to return. Fans, players and backroom staff can help prevent Azerbaijan’s likely attempt to sportswash its image by informing themselves about the human rights situation behind the glitzy facade of Wednesday’s match….All too often, governments are using high-profile sporting competitions to distract attention from repressive policies and human rights violations, to instead project an image of openness. This couldn’t be further from the truth with the current administration, and the Arsenal-Chelsea clash is just the latest reminder of this.”

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/may/22/amnesty-international-azerbaijan-human-rights-football

Good Breaking news: Azerbaijan pardons many opposition leaders and critics

March 16, 2019

The ink on an EU report (March 15) concluding that human rights in Azerbaijan remain in need of improvement, is hardly dry and there is a surprise announcement that Azerbaijan’s strongman-resident has ordered the release of more than 400 people, including opposition politicians and pro-democracy youth activists who were listed as political prisoners by international human rights groups. True, the EU report comes ahead of the upcoming EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council, scheduled to take place on 4 April in Brussels, but there must be other reasons.

Ilham Aliyev
Ilham Aliyev Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Fuad Qahramanli and Gozal Bayramli, deputy leaders of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party, are among the pardoned, according to a statement on the presidential website. Pro-opposition youth activists Ilkin Rustamzada, Qiyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov will also be released. The pardoned are to be freed within 24 hours. At least 43 human rights defenders, journalists, political and religious activists remained wrongfully imprisoned in Azerbaijan last year, according to Human Rights Watch. Whether all of these are freed is not yet clear.

It would be wonderful if this blog can finally turn attention elsewhere after some 30 posts concerning Azerbaijan (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/azerbaijan).

https://www.europeaninterest.eu/article/eu-report-human-rights-azerbaijan-remain-need-improvement/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-16/azerbaijan-s-president-orders-release-of-politicians-activists

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/9/328344/World/International/Azerbaijan-strongman-pardons-jailed-activists,-opp.aspx

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/azerbaijan

Human Rights Education courses also exist in Europe!

February 28, 2019

2019 COMPASS National Training Courses on Human Rights Education with Young People

For those who think that human rights education work is done only in developing countries, here some information from the Council of Europe. The 2019 call for COMPASS National and Regional Training Courses in Human Rights Education for young people generated 45 projects proposals submitted by youth NGOs from 24 Council of Europe member states. The 2019 programme of Compass courses includes activities in Azerbaijan, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova and Serbia (see list below). Proposals from Norway, Slovenia and Portugal are on a reserve list pending further availability of funds.

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Azerbaijan: example of ‘sophisticated’ harassment of human rights lawyers

June 29, 2018

Om 29 June 2018 Front Line Defenders reported on the case of disbarment of human rights lawyer Irada Javadova in Azerbaijan. It shows how seemingly ‘neutral’ procedures within the Bar Association are used to silence human rights defenders.

Irada Javadova <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/irada-javadova> is a human rights lawyer who was involved in many resonant cases, including working on numerous violations of citizens’ property rights and violations against political activists and human rights defenders. She is the former head of NGO “Human Rights Education”. The procedure was initiated upon the complaint of an anonymous citizen, who stated that Irada Javadova wrote a letter to the Interior Ministry about her illegal detention in the Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and reported the incident to the press, without the citizen’s consent. According to reports, the citizen stated that Irada Javadova spread false information, defamed her, and requested that the Bar Association take action against the human rights defender. On 11 June 2018, the Presidium of the Bar Association announced the termination of her authority.

Irada Javadova denied the allegations, stating that she had an agreement with her client and that she had legitimately defended her and acted within the law. She had submitted the agreement with the complainant to the Bar Association, but her colleagues expressed doubts about the authenticity of the client’s signature. She was disbarred on 11 June 2018. On 12 June, she met with the chairman of the Presidium of the Bar Association and presented additional evidence, but she was told that there will be an appeal to Baku Administrative Economic Court No. 1, where she will have the opportunity to defend her rights. Irada Javadova believes that the disciplinary commission was biased and erroneous.  On 14 June 2018, human rights lawyer Irada Javadova appealed the Presidium of the Bar Association’s decision to disbar her.

[In recent years, Azeri authorities have been pursuing those lawyers who defend political activists and who speak before the European Court of Human Rights. Officials have dismissed such well-known and active lawyers as Namizad Safarov, Khalid Baghirov <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/khalid-bagirov> , Aslan Ismayilov, Alaif Hasanov, Elchin Namazov, Yalchin Imanov <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/yalchin-imanov> , Farhad Mehdiyev, Muzaffar Bakhshaliyev, Annaghi Hajibeyli, and Intigam Aliyev <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/intigam-aliyev>.  For some earlier posts on Azerbaijan: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/azerbaijan/page/4/

PS In 2018, Irada Javadova was the only member of Presidium of the Bar Association to vote against the disbarment of human rights lawyer Yalchin Imanov. It is believed that she lost her place in the Presidium following her defence of Yalchin Imanov.

 

After 3 year gap, EU and Azerbaijan meet again but human rights remain precarious

February 10, 2018

Federica Mogherini and Elmar Mammadyarov in Brussels on 9 February 2018. [Council]

Azeri journalist Khadija Ismayilova not allowed to come and pick up her award in Stockholm

November 24, 2017

The Right Livelihood Foundation stated on Friday 24 November that its 2017 prize winner from Azerbaijan, Khadija Ismayilova, would not be able to attend the 1 December award ceremony in Stockholm because of a travel ban linked to a suspended sentence she is serving. Khadija Ismayilova says that she is under the travel ban “because I criticize the government when it steals the people’s money.” Lawyers Colin Gonsalves from India and Yetnebersh Nigussie of Ethiopia share the cash award of 3 million kronor ($374,000) with Ismayilova. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/04/2017-right-livelihood-laureates-announcement-in-video/]

Ismayilova, Azerbaijan’s top investigative journalist, was convicted of tax evasion in 2015 in what was largely viewed as a payback for her work. She was released from prison six months later after a higher court commuted her 7 ½-year sentence and converted it into a suspended one. She is not legally allowed to travel outside the country while she is still serving the sentence. Ismayilova petitioned the court several times after her release to be allowed to travel outside the country but all of her requests have been denied.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/12/18/azerbaijan-khadija-ismayilova-remains-in-jail-but-council-of-europe-takes-exceptional-step/]

http://www.tampabay.com/azeri-alternative-nobel-winner-barred-from-going-to-sweden-ap_worldd47dff8c0bb546d0a4570fdc94ad292a

4 activists receive the ′Alternative Nobel Prize′ 2017

September 30, 2017

This year’s Right Livelihood Awards recipients have fought for greater inclusion for those with disabilities, defended human and health rights, as well as sought to expose governmental corruption.

Winnres of the Right Livelihood Awards (Right Livelihood-Award)

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation announced the three recipients of its 2017 prize on Tuesday 26 September in Stockholm: Ethiopian lawyer Yetnebersh Nigussie, Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova and Indian attorney Colin Gonsalves were honored for their work “offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root causes of global problems.” US attorney Robert Bilott received an honorary mention.

The four awardees were selected from a pool of 102 nominations from 51 different countries. An award ceremony will take place on December 1.

Niguissie, Ismayilova and Gonsalves will share a prize of 3 million Swedish kronor (around €314,000).

For more on the award see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest.  for earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/right-livelihood-award/

Source: ′Alternative Nobel Prize′ awarded to 4 global activists | News | DW | 26.09.2017

Azerbaijan: constitutional referendum on 26 September will surely pass but not the human rights muster

September 24, 2016

Michel Forst (right), the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, addressing reporters in Baku on September 22.
Michel Forst (right), the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (right), addressing reporters in Baku on 22 September 2016.
Michel Forst, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said on 22 September 2016 that Azerbaijani authorities have applied crippling pressure to journalists and rights activists critical of the government, and made it virtually impossible for nongovernmental organizations to operate. “Civil society has been paralyzed as a result of such intense pressure,” Forst said as he wrapped up a nine-day visit to the South Caucasus nation to assess the situation. Observing that most of the recommendations by the international and regional human rights mechanisms have yet to be implemented by the Government of Azerbaijan, Mr Forst strongly called for establishing a mechanism that would result in a plan of action to implement those outstanding recommendations. He urged the Government to “to build bridges with civil society organizations, and to establish a regular and meaningful dialogue with human rights defenders, ensuring broad and inclusive participation. I believe such dialogue and partnership is ultimately in the interest of the Azerbaijani State”. [for the full end of mission statement see: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20544&LangID=E
Human rights defenders have been accused by public officials to be a fifth column of the Western governments, or foreign agents, which has led to misperception in the population of the truly valuable role played by civil society,” Forst added.
He was served immediately by Azerbaijani MP and editor-in-chief of the New Azerbaijan newspaper, Hikmat Babaoghlu, who told APA that “the Western imperialism has launched an attack on Azerbaijan with its entire network, which includes radical opposition groups, numerous local and international “civil society instructions” and “human rights defenders”. All these are taking place before the eyes of the Azerbaijani people, who are well aware of what is happening. Therefore, the destructive plan of imperialist centers will never succeed in Azerbaijan”  The main goal of the upcoming referendum is to better ensure the national security and the transition of development to a qualitatively new stage, he added. (Even more scathing is a piece written by Elmira Tariverdiyeva, the head of Trend Agency’s Russian news service – see link below.)
Forst’s report indeed comes just days ahead of a referendum (26 September) on changes to Azerbaijan’s constitution that critics say will tighten Aliyev’s grip on power, which he has held since 2003. The proposed amendments to the Constitution would further strengthen the already powerful president, including a longer presidential term, the authority to declare early presidential elections at will and dissolve parliament. The amendments will also lead to violations of the right to freedom of association. While in practice, public assemblies have already been prohibited in central Baku, the proposed amendments will grant the government even more power to interfere with the freedom of assembly in violation of international standards. The Council of Europe experts said on September 20 that the proposed changes would severely upset the balance of power and give “unprecedented” control to the president. (The head of the legal department in Aliyev’s administration called that assessment “hasty” and “politically driven.”)

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