"Freedom House" again included Azerbaijan in non-free countries list

"Freedom House" again included Azerbaijan in non-free countries list

On 29 "February Freedom House" published a report titled: "World Freedom: Growing Damage from Illegal Elections and Armed Conflicts".

The report lists Azerbaijan among unfree countries, scoring only 7 points out of 100 possible in the Global Freedom Index. The report assesses access to political rights and civil liberties in 210 countries and territories.

In 2023, political rights and civil liberties deteriorated in 52 countries, home to one-fifth of the world's population. Wars, unfair elections, and suppression of pluralistic environments are reasons for the deterioration of freedoms.  38 percent of the world's population live in non-free countries, 42 percent in partly free countries and 20 percent in free countries.

The section on Azerbaijan says that the authoritarian power is still concentrated in the hands of Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled since 2003, and his relatives and family.

"Corruption is rampant in the country and the official political opposition has been weakened by years of persecution. In recent years, the authorities have carried out a sweeping crackdown on civil liberties, leaving little room for independent expression.

Among the major events in 2023, it says that in November, Azerbaijani authorities launched an intense crackdown on the country's remaining independent media. "Several journalists and media executives were detained on charges of smuggling, illegal construction and resisting police."

A controversial law was passed imposing strict conditions for the registration of political parties. "The law sparked protests and international criticism, especially the requirement that parties have at least 5,000 members, up from the previous 1,000."

"The December 2023 snap presidential election was scheduled a year early and was held in February 2024. The two main opposition parties, the Party of People's Front of Azerbaijan (PPFA) and Musavat, boycotted the elections, calling them an imitation.

It should be added that the political environment in Azerbaijan is neither pluralistic nor competitive. "The activities of opposition parties and communication with the public are restricted, but allowed to the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party.

A number of laws restrict the organisation and holding of rallies, and the opposition has virtually no access to television airtime. "The regime brutally persecutes any Islamic political movement that gains prominence."

In July 2023, Gubad Ibadoglu, leader of the Movement for Democracy and Prosperity of Azerbaijan, was arrested. "He was also charged with religious extremism for allegedly having contacts with Fethullah Gulen's movement. Ibadoglu has not been placed in a prison hospital despite his serious health condition.         

The authoritarian system in Azerbaijan excludes the public from any political participation.

"The regime relies on abuse of state resources, corrupt structures, security forces and the court system to maintain political dominance."

The section on "Government Activities" states that neither the President nor members of the Parliament are freely and fairly elected, and the Parliament cannot play a meaningful role and restrain the power of the President.

"Corruption is widespread. In the absence of a free press and an independent judiciary, officials are responsible for corruption only when it is in the interest of more powerful persons."

"Although public officials are nominally required to provide financial reports, the procedures are unclear and the reports are not publicly available."

Constitutional guarantees of press freedom are regularly and systematically violated as the government attempts to tightly control the information environment.

"Defamation remains a criminal offence. Legislative changes passed in 2017 expand government control over online media, allowing websites containing content that poses a threat to the state or society to be blocked without a court order. "Independent news websites are regularly blocked or subjected to cyber-attacks".

Journalists are banned from leaving the country and arrested or detained on trumped-up charges and monitored.

"In November 2023, the authorities began an intense crackdown on the remaining independent media outlets. Several journalists and media executives, including the directors and editorial staff of "Abzas Media" and Channel 13 TV, were arrested on charges of smuggling, illegal construction and resisting police."

The regime exercises control over religion through state institutions like the Caucasus Muslims Directorate. Many members of independent religious organisations face persecution. "In 2023, authorities arrested hundreds of Shia Muslims. Pro-government media portray some of them as spies for Iran, although most are arrested on drug charges. Human rights activists believe more than 500 Shiites have been arrested and tortured in prison.

Law enforcement agencies monitor the private telephone and online communications of activists, politicians and foreign nationals without a court order. The growing harassment of critics and their families has undermined the right to privacy of ordinary citizens. A number of activists have been arrested on trumped-up charges for critical postings on social media. Civic activists have been subjected to surveillance through spyware. Female activists are often harassed with publications of sexual nature.

Add that the freedom of assembly remains severely restricted. Repressive laws against NGOs are used to pressure local and foreign organisations, and many have stopped working in Azerbaijan. Nearly all human rights organisations or networks are forced to operate semi-legally.

The lack of political independence of the courts is particularly evident in many sham cases against oppositionists, activists and critical journalists. "Arbitrary arrests and detentions are common and detainees are often held for long periods of time before trial.

"Political prisoners have reported restricted access to a lawyer, fabrication and concealment of evidence, and physical abuse to extract confessions."

International observers say torture and impunity for perpetrators of such abuses are commonplace in Azerbaijan's justice system.

"Police regularly beat suspects during arrests or when dispersing protests. Detention conditions are below standard. Medical care is generally inadequate and overcrowding is common." The organisation cites the "Teter case" and "the death of Elkhan Aghazadeh, who died under torture" as examples.

Although same-sex sexual relations are legal, LGBT+ people are discriminated in society and harassed by the police. In 2022, openly gay LGBT+ activist Avaz Shikhmamedov, known as Avaz Hafizli, was murdered by his cousin.--


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