The situation of human rights in Azerbaijan has been unsatisfactory for many years

December 10 is International Human Rights Day. Traditionally, this year, as every year, we had a conversation with a human rights defender to find out about the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan.

Rufat Safarov, co-founder of the Defense Line human rights organization, answered ASTNA's questions about the state of human rights in Azerbaijan in the last year.

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Question: Rufat Bey, how do you evaluate the results of 2023 regarding human rights? What was the most memorable thing in this field in 2023? Have there been any positive developments in the field of human rights during this year? Or what regressions have been recorded?

Answer: The government of Azerbaijan does not do politics in the spirit of respect for human rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, we are ending a more difficult and repressive year than in the past. After liberating the occupied lands, gaining military achievements, and ensuring our territorial integrity in accordance with national and international legislation, the authorities seem to be quite confident in domestic politics. The government forces are giving the critics and bearers of opposing ideas a hard time. The current year was marked by numerous administrative and criminal proceedings with political weight. During the reign of President Ilham Aliyev, the number of political prisoners reached unprecedented levels. Today, more than 250 political prisoners are kept in detention centers and prisons. It is no coincidence that international organizations specializing in the field of human rights also talk about the strengthened authoritarian rule in Azerbaijan. They identify us with the administration of Turkmenistan.

Question: Which fundamental rights have been violated the most this year? In general, what changes have occurred in the area of freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and other freedoms?

Answer: I must note with regret that the current government does not want to guarantee a democratic structure within the framework of the Constitution. The YAP government has completely put the legal state-building, which ensures the rule of law as an expression of society, into the background. The establishment of civil society is outside the interests of government policy. Over the years, billions have been pumped through oil and gas sales; however, ensuring a decent standard of living for all under fair economic and social rules has not been the goal of official policy. Instead, corruption - the main condition of the existence of the current government - was strengthened. Currently, monopoly is widespread, there is no competitive environment, and official oligarchy is in vogue. Furthermore, political rights are grossly ignored: in fact, since January 2019, freedom of assembly has been completely blocked. The media has become licensed, and the activities of political parties have been further restricted following a new but reactionary law. Freedom of the press and information and freedom of speech and thought are formal in nature. Members of the media are persecuted every day in the republic. Obstruction to the professional activity of journalists is at its peak. During the last few days, six journalists - Ulvi Hasanli, Sevinj Vagifgizi, Mahammad Kekalov, Nargiz Absalamova, and Aziz Orujov were brought to criminal responsibility on illegal grounds. Rufat Muradli was administratively detained for 30 days based on trumped-up charges. It has reached the point where people with black masks raided the house of Aziz Orujov, the head of the Baku office of Kanal 13, and arrested him in front of his 3-year-old daughter. What historical period does it remind you of? The 30s of the last century, the period of the "Red Terror".

Question: According to your observations, in which area are there more problems related to human rights? In temporary detention facilities, detention centers, prisons, police stations, courts? In which of these are human rights violated the most?

Answer: Of course, the state institutions you listed are the main pillars of the repressive system that turns violence into state policy. Disturbing information comes in every day from temporary detention facilities, police departments and offices. After the change of management in penal-executive policy, pretrial detention centers, and penitentiary institutions, there are certain positive signals, political prisoners and their family members talk about positive changes. Courts attract attention as the "legal tongs" of the political regime. The balance between the branches of power has been grossly violated in favor of the supreme executive authority. As the Parliament is the "legal" extension of the Presidential Administration, the courts are the "juridical" extension.

Question: What is the situation with political prisoners? What is currently being done regarding their issue? What changes have occurred in the list of political prisoners? Who was arrested? How many people have been sentenced to administrative detention for their political activities?

Answer: As I have shown above, the number of political prisoners exceeded 250 during the 20-year rule of the head of state Ilham Aliyev. During the 20-year rule, there were no political prisoners to this extent. The authorities have declared 2023 as the year of de facto repression. 11 journalists and bloggers, 13 members of opposition parties and movements, 2 human rights defenders, 5 deportees from Germany, 183 religious people, 7 on the "Tartar case", 22 on the "Ganja case", 11 life convicts were isolated from society as political prisoners. The total is 254. I should also note that those arrested in recent days are not included in this list. My colleagues are working on a new list.

Question: This year was marked by noisy arrests. The arrest of Gubad Ibadoglu, Nazim Baydamirli, religious people, and 6 journalists, one of which was administratively arrested. What does all this indicate?

Answer: What is happening confirms that the government does not want to read the free media, does not listen to the law-defense institutes that have the idea of free rights, and does not want to see an opposition party. This is the goal of official policy: to bring all interests into line with the interests of authority.

Question: What steps should be taken to improve the human rights situation in 2024? Do human rights defenders consult with the government about the human rights situation?

Answer: As Defence Line, when preparing our reports on the state of human rights, we make our proposals to the government and highlight the necessity of democratic, legal, and political reforms. In our daily notes and speeches, we declare that we are open to discussions, we invite them to debates, but we cannot find an official who is interested in this or a non-governmental organization that promotes the legal policy of the authorities. Independent lawyers, critical human rights activists, and representatives of the free media are not involved in discussions with high-ranking officials. Apparently, the legal and political will of the Presidential Administration dictates this.

Question: What is the international response to the human rights situation in the country? Can it be considered satisfactory?

Answer: The situation of human rights in Azerbaijan has been unsatisfactory for many years. The government is showing special aggression in domestic politics. De facto in the geography of Azerbaijan, engaging in free media activity has been "criminalized". Those who blindly observe the process of engaging in legal protection activities outside of the control of the authorities value it as the embodiment of heroism. A lot of parties dissolved themselves, the majority of remaining parties are engaged in politics under the umbrella of the government, and the real opposition is under permanent persecution. We did not see adequate and serious reactions from political power centers - Western and European state institutions - to these cases. From time to time, we observed declarative calls, we heard the word "We are concerned!" expressed by the diplomatic circles of the West. Relations with the Azerbaijani authorities in the economic, energy, etc. areas were continued at a high level, and human rights were put in the background. In recent times, we have seen certain international pressures, which coincide with the successful conclusion of our territorial integrity and legal military operations in Karabakh. We are in favor of putting the issue like this: violation of human rights cannot be an internal matter of any country, and if political power centers promote democratic principles and administrations, they should raise the issue of human rights separately and in a principled way when contacting with authoritarian systems, as well as with official Baku. 

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