Liberal Solidarity Week

Introduction by Muhammad Shamin

Azerbaijan flagAzerbaijan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It is also known to be a country rich with oil and natural gas sources. In 1994, the Azerbaijan government signed an oil contract with a Western consortium worth $7.4bn. Western companies have invested million of dollars for the development of the oil and gas reserves in the country.

Caspian oil is now flowing through a pipeline running from Baku through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, providing western countries with ready access to a vast new source of supply. [1]

Despite the abundance of riches, human rights conditions there has not been any better. Political oppositions are still harassed and jailed. Media freedom is at a dismal state of affairs. Elections are not free and fair. The judiciary controlled by the government.

Political prisoners

The government continues to hold a number of political prisoners, prompting the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in March 2009 to appoint a rapporteur on the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Government officials, businessmen, and opposition politicians arrested prior to the November 2005 parliamentary elections on allegations of attempting to overthrow the government remain in custody. Parts of their trials were completely closed and lawyers said there were procedural violations, raising concerns about the trials’ fairness. Three political prisoners arrested in connection with the 2003 presidential election, Elchin Amiraslanov, Safa Poladov, and Arif Kazimov, also remain incarcerated. [2]

Jailed bloggers

Bloggers are not spared either. So far two blogger have been detained, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade. In July youth activists and bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were physically attacked, apparently unprovoked, in a Baku restaurant. They were detained, interrogated, and put in custody when they went to the police to complain about the attack; their attackers were released. Milli and Hajizade were convicted in November of hooliganism and deliberately causing bodily harm and sentenced to two-and-a-half and two years in custody, respectively. [3]

Adnan is also the founder of the OL! Youth Movement. OL means “to be”, and the movement encourages young people to take positive actions and to be liberal, tolerant and democratic. Milli established Alumni Network TV, an online television station.

In 2009, they had made a satirical video featuring a press conference with a donkey that joked about “creating an NGO to protect the rights of donkeys”. The video is available in Youtube:

Shortly after the video about the donkey appeared, they were at a restaurant when they were suddenly attacked and beaten by three men. They submitted a complaint at the local police station, but instead of receiving assistance, they were arrested. Milli was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment and Adnan to 24 months.

Milli and Adnan are exponents of a new era in which the struggle for human rights is waged via the internet. “The authorities are trying to prevent the internet from becoming a powerful opposition tool in the run up to the next parliamentary elections. Blogs and social networking web sites have become very popular with young Azerbaijanis.” [4]

Reporters Without Borders state that in Azerbaijan, journalists, bloggers and activists are forced to work under a climate of fear and uncertainty. Due to the persistent pressures from the authorities, it has led to a climate in which self-censorship features prominently. Dramatic deterioration of freedom of expression continues and it could worsen following the run-up to the November parliamentary elections. [5]

State impunity

The state continues to adopt brutal methods in dealing with its opponents. Torture in custody continues to be adopted. According to Human Rights Watch, the Azerbaijan Committee against Torture, an independent group that monitors penitentiary institutions, received over 90 complaints alleging torture and ill-treatment in custody. In each case where law enforcement agencies responded to the complaint, they denied that torture or ill-treatment had taken place. At least three prisoners are reported to have died in custody in 2009 after allegedly being ill-treated. [6]

Oppression continues in Azerbaijan at an alarming rate. The fears that the political and social activists face are great. Nevertheless, their bravery is respectable. Continuing a struggle under the kind of condition that they are under requires a superhuman effort and courage. It is hope that the international community is able to pressure the current regime to stop its brutality. We express our solidarity with the activists there and hope that they persevere through these tough and challenging times.