Giorgi Gogia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/8585/all cached version 08/02/2019 19:38:38 en Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The kidnapping of an Azerbaijani investigative journalist in broad daylight in Tbilisi raises questions about how far the west is willing to tolerate Azerbaijan's authoritarian slide.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/images-cms-image-000033736.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afghan Mukhtarli has been charged with smuggling in Baku after being kidnapped in Tbilisi. Image: <a href=http://www.meydan.tv>MeydanTV</a>. </span></span></span>On 29 May, an Azerbaijani journalist and political activist was kidnapped in <a href="https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/georgia">Georgia</a>’s capital Tbilisi and then illegally brought across the border to <a href="https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/azerbaijan">Azerbaijan</a>, where he reappeared less than 24 hours later in Azerbaijani border police custody, Human Rights Watch said today. He now faces bogus, politically motivated charges of illegal border crossing and smuggling. Georgian authorities should promptly investigate the kidnapping of the journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, and Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against him.</p><p>Mukhtarli and his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, also an investigative journalist, have been living in Georgia since 2015 to escape the Azerbaijani government’s vicious crackdown against its critics. There are fears that Mukhtarli faces the imminent threat of ill-treatment in custody.<br /><br />“Mukhtarli went to Georgia seeking safety, but it seems he was not far enough out of the Azerbaijani government’s clutches,” said <a href="https://www.hrw.org/about/people/giorgi-gogia">Giorgi Gogia</a>, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “The Georgian government also shares responsibility for his fate and should come clean about its role in his illegal detention and return.”<strong><br /><br /></strong>Mukhtarli, 43, is an investigative journalist who has worked for several independent and opposition media outlets, including the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Meydan TV and others. His investigative stories exposed corruption in Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense, and the extensive business networks owned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his affiliates in neighboring Georgia. <br /><br />Mukhtarli continued his activism in Tbilisi and participated in a series of protests in front of the Azerbaijani embassy. Mukhtarli’s Facebook posts often criticized government corruption and the persecution of activists in Azerbaijan. Mukhtarli also alleged on Facebook that he was being subjected to surveillance by unidentified people.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Mukhtarli told his lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, who spoke to him in custody, that unidentified men stopped him a few blocks from his house, pushed him into a car, and drove him to a park, where they put a bag over his head and beat him</p><p><br />Mukhtarli’s and Mustafayeva’s residence permits for Georgia formally expired in September 2016, when Georgian authorities refused to extend them. But the couple continued to legally reside in Georgia, as Azerbaijani passport holders do not require visas for Georgia and can remain in the country for up to one year.<strong><br /><br /></strong>On 29 May, at about 7pm, after meeting a friend in a café in central Tbilisi, Mukhtarli called Mustafayeva to let her know that he was on his way home. But Mustafayeva told Human Rights Watch that Mukhtarli did not return. The next morning, Mustafayeva filed a missing person’s report with the local police and alerted local media and civil society groups. On the afternoon of 30 May, Mukhtarli resurfaced in Baku, in the investigative unit of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan. <strong><br /><br /></strong>Mukhtarli told his lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, who spoke to him in custody, that unidentified men stopped him a few blocks from his house, pushed him into a car, and drove him to a park, where they put a bag over his head and beat him. His captors spoke Georgian among themselves and addressed him in Russian. <br /><br />After he complained that he could not breathe and had heart problems, the assailants instead blindfolded him with a shirt and used scotch tape to hold it in place. Sadigov told Human Rights Watch that Mukhtarli’s nose was broken and he saw bruises on his forehead, left temple, right eye, and elsewhere on his face. Mukhtarli also complained of severe pain in his chest, which he believed was caused by a fractured rib.<br /><br />Mukhtarli told Sadigov that his captors changed vehicles twice. The assailants in the second vehicle spoke Azeri and brought him to an Azerbaijani border checkpoint in Balakan district at about 11pm on 29 May. At the checkpoint, unidentified people removed his blindfold and told him that he had illegally crossed the border, and someone also planted €10,000 on him. Azerbaijani authorities held Mukhtarli at the border checkpoint overnight and in the early hours of 30 May took him to a nearby closed border pass zone, and photographed him to make it look as though he were trespassing there. At this point, Azerbaijani authorities detained him, handcuffed him, and transported him to Baku. <strong><br /><br /></strong>Azerbaijani law requires a person to show a valid passport before crossing the Azerbaijani-Georgia border, but Mukhtarli’s passport remains in Tbilisi.</p><p><strong><span class="mag-quote-center">Georgian authorities should immediately investigate Mukhtarli’s kidnapping, including whether Georgian law enforcement agents were complicit in illegally transferring Mukhtarli across the border<br /></span><br /></strong>“This kidnapping is clumsy and cowardly,” Gogia said. “No one for a minute will believe that Mukhtarli voluntarily tried to enter Azerbaijan, from where he fled to escape persecution. If Azerbaijani authorities have evidence of wrongdoing they could have pursued him through extradition. Instead, he was abducted by cartoonish gangsters.”<strong><br /><br /></strong>Georgian authorities should immediately investigate Mukhtarli’s kidnapping, including whether Georgian law enforcement agents were complicit in illegally transferring Mukhtarli across the border or whether they actively participated in his kidnapping, Human Rights Watch said.<strong><br /><br /></strong>Both Georgia and Azerbaijan are members of the Council of Europe and parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, and any involvement of, or acquiescence by, state agents in the kidnapping and transfer of Mukhtarli to Azerbaijan is a serious violation of the convention. <br /><br />In cases involving unlawful transfer of individuals out of Russia, the <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#%7B%22itemid%22:[%22001-155007%22]%7D">European Court of Human Rights has warned</a> that “any extra-judicial transfer or extraordinary rendition, by its deliberate circumvention of due process, is an absolute negation of the rule of law and the values protected by the Convention. It therefore amounts to a violation of the most basic rights guaranteed by the Convention.”<strong><br /><br /></strong>Mukhtarli is expected to face a closed court hearing on 31 May, to determine whether he will be held in pretrial custody during the investigation. <strong><br /><br /></strong>“Azerbaijan has an appalling record of harassing and prosecuting government critics, and we are seriously concerned for Mukhtarli’s safety,” Gogia said. “Azerbaijani authorities should immediately free him and allow him to reunite with his wife in Georgia.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Giorgi Gogia Azerbaijan Wed, 31 May 2017 13:42:05 +0000 Giorgi Gogia 111312 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Diminishing public trust in Armenia’s electoral process https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/diminishing-public-trust-in-armenia-s-electoral-process <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After revealing evidence of electoral campaiging for Armenia's ruling party by public sector employees, this NGO is facing a defamation suit and attacks in the press.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-30750727.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters of the The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) march in Yerevan ahead of Armenia's parliamentary election on 2 April. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Last month, Armenia held its watershed parliamentary election, initiating the country’s transfer to a parliamentary form of government. The process will be completed after next year’s presidential vote, when the president’s post will become largely ceremonial, while parliament will form a government that will hold full executive powers.&nbsp;</p> <p>An opposition party has unsuccessfully challenged the legitimacy of the elections in the Constitutional Court, and the newly elected parliament is set to convene on 18 May. So although the dust hasn’t fully settled yet on the post-election outcome, it’s a good time to take stock of the election itself. &nbsp;</p> <p>The vote was well administered, but failed to bridge the gap in public confidence and trust in the electoral process. International observers, led by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, said fundamental freedoms were generally respected in the process. However, they also noted that the elections “were tainted by credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Government pressure on civil servants around elections has been a persistent problem in Armenia, giving unfair advantages to the party in power. In its assessment of 2012 parliamentary polls, the OSCE <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/91643?download=true">noted with concern numerous cases</a> of the ruling party using teachers and pupils in campaign events, including during school hours, “creating unequal playfield for political contestants.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Armenia needs more transparency, and more protection for people who expose potential political misdeeds or abuse of public resources</p> <p>The story of one Armenian nongovernmental organisation’s efforts to expose the involvement of public school staff in campaigning and recruiting supporters for the ruling party paints a vivid picture of what that pressure looks like, and the retaliation people face when they try to uncover it.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ten days before the 2 April vote, the Union of Informed Citizens published an <a href="http://sut.am/en/archives/803">expose</a> about an unorthodox experiment its staff conducted. The Union of Informed Citizens is a local nongovernmental group, established in 2013, which raises public awareness about policy issues and promotes informed decision-making. Its donors include European Endowment for Democracy, Open Society Foundations, National Endowment for Democracy, and others. </p><p>As part of the experiment, the group’s activists had called 136 public school principals and preschool directors across Armenia, pretending to be representatives from the ruling Republican Party, inquiring about the preparations for the polls. The group said that 114 of the principals admitted collecting lists of schoolteachers, preschool staff, and parents of students who pledged to support the Republican Party at the polls. These lists, the unsuspecting respondents said, were submitted to local municipalities and the ruling party campaign offices. The Union of Informed Citizens also publicized audio recordings of the phone conversations.&nbsp;</p> <p>While the ruling party acknowledged that school officials had indeed compiled the lists, they insisted that it was part of legitimate campaigning, as it did not occur during work hours. The Central Election Commission supported the official position, claiming that there was not enough evidence that administrative resources had been used in the process of drawing up those lists. Everyone seemed to demonstratively ignore the obvious: that the party’s access to such lists, which teachers and principals have thanks to their positions, is the issue. Plus, of course, the unspoken pressure that the authorities put on school staff who need their jobs.</p> <p>As the authorities swiftly dismissed the allegations, and a concerted campaign to discredit the Union of Informed Citizens and its leader, Daniel Ioannissyan, soon got underway.&nbsp;</p> <p>A day after the expose was published, an online news agency published an article revealing certain private details of Ioannissyan’s family’s private life, which, according to Ioannissyan, could only have been found in police records. Several weeks later, the authorities opened an inquiry into possible breach of Ioannissyan’s privacy, but have not yet identified any suspect in the case.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">While one could take issue over how the Union of Informed Citizens went about obtaining the information from the schools, it is also clear that what they were exposing was of high public interest</p> <p>Also, on 10 April, the principals of 30 public schools and kindergartens sued the Union of Informed Citizens and Ioannissyan personally, seeking a formal apology and total of 60 million drams (over £95,000) in damages to their honor and dignity.&nbsp;</p> <p>While one could take issue over how the Union of Informed Citizens went about obtaining the information from the schools, it is also clear that what they were exposing was of high public interest. International norms provide extra protections for people who expose certain kinds of abuse when that information is in the public interest. These protections grant whistleblowers leniency for breach of other laws, such as privacy, or even national security.&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, Armenia’s civil defamation laws don’t include public interest defense arguments, leaving a gap in the legal protection that should exist to safeguard the importance of freedom of expression on matters of public interest. The authorities have a responsibility to protect groups like the Union of Informed Citizens when exercising their right to impart information in the public interest.&nbsp;</p> <p>If the defamation suits are successful, they will no doubt inhibit future efforts by activists to expose entrenched, hidden abuses. Armenia needs more transparency, and more protection for people who expose potential political misdeeds or abuse of public resources. And more activists like the Union of Informed Citizens.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov/armenia-before-goldrush">Armenia: before the goldrush</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/running-for-tsar-armenia-s-gagik-tsarukyan">Running for Tsar: Armenia’s Gagik Tsarukyan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">Armenia in the trap of “national unity”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Giorgi Gogia Armenia Mon, 08 May 2017 08:36:06 +0000 Giorgi Gogia 110688 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The parallel realities of President Ilham Aliyev https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/parallel-realities-of-president-ilham-aliyev <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img style="float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" src="http://opendemocracy.net/files/u537772/GiorgiGogia80.png" alt="" width="80" /></p><p>President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan recently addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; and said that there are no human rights abuses in the country…</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>As I sat waiting on 24 June for President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan to <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/23/council-europeazerbaijan-confront-aliyev-rights">address</a> the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Europe’s top human rights body, I did not have high expectations that he would acknowledge the scope of his country’s human rights problems. But I also did not expect him to deny outright the existence of any human rights problems in Azerbaijan; and call those who challenged him, liars; only that is exactly what happened.</p><p><span>Aliyev eloquently described his country’s impressive economic growth and boasted of its accession to 59 Council of Europe conventions. Many of the guarantees in those conventions, however, as well as many of the commitments undertaken, over the 13 years since Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe, remain on paper only. But Aliyev boldly kept repeating that all fundamental rights are respected in Azerbaijan: ‘We have freedom of political activity… As we have free Internet and no censorship … media freedom is one of the assets of modern Azerbaijan and we are proud of it… Freedom of association and assembly is also fully provided in Azerbaijan.’</span></p><p><span class="pullquote-right">The President described a fantasy land that every one of us would love to live in.</span></p><h2>A fantasy land</h2><p><span>As one Azerbaijani friend of mine later dryly noted, the President described a fantasy land that every one of us would love to live in, but the reality is that my friend, like dozens of others, had to flee Azerbaijan in 2012, fearing persecution for his human rights work.</span></p><p><span></span><span>In the past two years, Azerbaijani authorities have brought or threatened unfounded </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/23/updates-politically-motivated-arrests-and-convictions-azerbaijan">criminal charges</a><span> against at least 40 political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, most of whom are behind bars. But President Aliyev was adamant that Azerbaijan has no political prisoners, and called the Deputies who raised the issue, liars; and he used the Parliamentary Assembly’s </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/01/28/what-next-azerbaijan-s-political-prisoners">failure to adopt a resolution</a><span> on the subject in January 2013 as proof. He kept repeating that no one is in prison in Azerbaijan for what they write. That might be the case literally, although criminal defamation still exists on the books.</span></p><p><span></span><span class="pullquote-right">The authorities use a range of criminal charges… even treason, to silence their critics.</span></p><h2>Silencing tactics</h2><p><span>Instead, as we have repeatedly documented, the authorities use a range of criminal charges, including drug and weapons possession, incitement to violence, hooliganism, tax evasion, and even treason to silence their critics. In many cases the flimsiness of the charges and their true purpose are obvious – for example in more than a half dozen cases, police arrested activists on </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/05/27/azerbaijan-bogus-drug-charges-silence-critics">drug charges</a><span> but questioned them almost exclusively about their activism.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Just last month, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Azerbaijani Government arrested </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/18/dispatches-azerbaijan-s-too-predictable-crackdown">Ilgar Mammadov</a><span>, one of the country’s top opposition political activists, ‘to silence or punish [him] for criticizing the Government.’ Mammadov remains in prison.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Aliyev, of course, did not mention the </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/01/23/azerbaijan-heed-council-europe-s-call-rights-reform">other resolution</a><span> the Parliamentary Assembly adopted on Azerbaijan in January 2013. It said, among other things, that ‘[t]he combination of the restrictive implementation of freedoms with unfair trials and the undue influence of the executive, results in the systemic detention of people who may be considered prisoners of conscience.’</span></p><p><span class="pullquote-right">In the past two years, the authorities have imposed onerous reporting obligations for advocacy groups.</span></p><p><span>I did not expect President Aliyev to discuss the </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/zh-hans/node/118308/section/8">closing space for independent organisations</a><span>. But the stifling of these groups is alarming. In the past two years, the authorities have imposed onerous reporting obligations for advocacy groups, establishing prohibitive fines for those that fail to comply. They have also refused to register many groups they expect to be critical of the Government. The Government requires non-governmental groups to register any grants they get, in order to use the funds, but in the past few months the authorities have repeatedly refused to register grants received by certain groups that are critical of the Government. Groups the Government refused to register have no legal means of financing their activities, pushing them to the margins of the law. For example, in May, a court in Baku sentenced </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/23/dispatches-plea-free-azerbaijan-rights-defender">Anar Mammadli</a><span>, head of a prominent election watchdog group, to five years in prison for&nbsp; illegal entrepreneurship, for operating without registration and other charges.</span></p><h2><span><span></span>Getting off scot free</span></h2><p><span></span><span><span class="pullquote-right">Aliyev’s speech suggests that he believes he can simply let criticism by international human rights bodies roll off his back.</span></span><span>Aliyev’s </span><a href="http://clients.dbee.com/coe/webcast/index.php?id=20140624-2&amp;lang=en&amp;ch=27">speech</a><span> suggests that he believes he can simply let criticism by international human rights bodies roll off his back. The Council of Europe leadership and the Parliamentary Assembly should not let this happen. It should remind the Azerbaijani leadership that credibility is conferred not by titles but by respecting the fundamental freedoms the Council of Europe is built upon.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The divide between the world the President described, and the harsh realities for human rights groups and other government critics, has grown even since last month when Azerbaijan took over the six-month rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. If President Aliyev was this belligerent with Parliamentary Assembly members, then we should all be very fearful of what the future holds for his critics at home.</span></p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Giorgi Gogia Politics NGOs Justice Human rights Thu, 10 Jul 2014 15:07:36 +0000 Giorgi Gogia 84344 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Giorgi Gogia https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/giorgi-gogia <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Giorgi Gogia </div> </div> </div> <p>Giorgi Gogia is South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch.</p> Giorgi Gogia Thu, 27 Jan 2011 19:08:56 +0000 Giorgi Gogia 57750 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Azerbaijan: rights situation no cause for celebration https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijan-rights-situation-no-cause-for-celebration <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It has been ten years since Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe, but no one is in the mood for a party. The country’s media remains shackled, dubious laws continue to be used punitively, and political opponents are still sent to prison. The Council needs to take its membership criteria more seriously, suggests Giorgi Gogia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">I am standing in the corridor of the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg, home of the <a href="http://www.coe.int/">Council of Europe</a>’s Parliamentary Assembly, awaiting my next meeting to discuss the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. It is at this moment I’m handed an invitation from the Azerbaijani ambassador, requesting the pleasure of my company at a jazz concert marking the 10th anniversary of the country’s accession to the Council of Europe.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">It is an important anniversary, no doubt, but there’s not much to celebrate. Membership in the Council of Europe, Europe’s foremost human rights body, is a privilege which comes with a number of responsibilities, and this oil-rich country is failing to meet many of them. Azerbaijan has certainly reformed a number of laws in consultation with the Council of Europe, and even released some political prisoners, but many of its commitments have remained paper ones.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">One of Azerbaijan’s promises, for example, was to guarantee freedom of expression and&nbsp; independence for journalists and the media. In reality, the government continues to be engaged in concerted efforts to limit freedom of expression. The authorities use criminal defamation and other laws and violent attacks to intimidate dissenting journalists and civil society activists, frightening many into silence. At least nine journalists have fled Azerbaijan in <a href="http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/10/26/azerbaijan-journalists-facing-violence-and-prosecution">recent years</a>, fearing repercussions for their work. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Senior Azerbaijani officials frequently bring criminal defamation charges against those who dare to criticize government policies or expose government corruption. It took three years and a European Court of Human Rights decision for the government to drop criminal defamation and trumped-up terrorism convictions against the outspoken editor <a href="http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/imprisoned-azerbaijani-journalist-faces-new-jail-term-2010-07-06">Eynulla Fatullayev.</a> Despite the Court’s call for his immediate release, Fatullayev remains in prison on new and bogus charges of drug possession.</p> <p class="p1">The government paid compensation for damages — as the Court required — but to an account the authorities froze when they pressed terrorism charges against Fatullayev. Although the convictions were revoked, the account remains frozen, making the transfer appear cynical at best.</p> <p class="p1">In another case, one of the most gratuitous applications of criminal defamation laws, Education Ministry officials brought charges against <a href="http://www.mediarights.az/index.php?lngs=eng&amp;do=print&amp;cats=5&amp;id=59">Alovsat Osmanli,</a> a mathematician, physicist and textbook author. His crime was that he publicly criticized the ministry in January 2010 for errors in maths textbooks.</p> <p class="p1">Another commitment by Azerbaijan was to ensure free and fair elections. The OSCE <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/55790">reports</a> from the November 2010 parliamentary elections indicated that Baku has a long way to go to meet this obligation. It should come as no surprise that only one opposition candidate won a seat on the 125-member legislative body, the <a href="http://www.meclis.gov.az/">Milli Mejlis</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The election also took place in a context of severely curtailed freedoms of expression and assembly. At no point during the entire election campaign, for example, did the government authorize an opposition rally in the centre of Baku. Police swiftly and often violently dispersed unauthorized protests, just as often arresting peaceful demonstrators and the journalists who were there to document police conduct. It is sadly symbolic that Azadlig [“Freedom”] Square — the central public square in Baku where opposition supporters used to gather — has now been turned into a parking lot.</p> <p class="p1">Yet the Council of Europe <a href="https://wcd.coe.int/wcd/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1701217&amp;Site=DC">welcomed</a> Azerbaijan’s “peaceful” elections, with any criticism it had expressed in largely muted tones. Several officials at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly tried to justify the approach in terms of maintaining cordiality with the Azerbaijani government. (I wonder, though, how they feel about the people of Azerbaijan?)</p> <p class="p1">Yet another accession commitment concerned the release of political prisoners. The government did release some, but over the years it has arrested dozens more opposition supporters. Others still remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges. The Council of Europe’s special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan has four times <a href="http://asbarez.com/92133/azerbaijan-denys-entry-to-pace-official-amid-increased-scrutiny-over-political-prisoners/">requested</a> to visit the country, but the government has yet to cooperate with him.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">At the ten year point of Azerbaijan’s membership of the Council of Europe, it will certainly take more than just a jazz concert if the country is to prove its commitments to the principles that organization stands for. Releasing Fatullayev and decriminalizing dissent would certainly be steps in right direction. There would be no better way for Azerbaijan to celebrate its membership in Europe’s foremost human rights body than by upholding its accession commitments.</p> <p class="p1"><em>Giorgi Gogia is South Caucasus researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in Tblisi.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><strong>About Azerbaijan</strong></p><p>Oil-rich Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus, bordered by the Caspian Sea to the East, Russia to the North, Georgia and Armenia to the West and Iran to the South. It has been an independent republic since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Azerbaijan continues to be involved in a bitter territorial dispute with Armenia over the <a href="http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/nagorny-karabakh/index.php">Nagorno-Karabakh </a>region in the eastern part of the country.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democracy-protest/article_1626.jsp">Dynasty and democracy in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/azerbaijan-from-bad-to-worse">Azerbaijan: from bad to worse</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> <div class="field-item even"> Azerbaijan </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Azerbaijan Russia Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics Giorgi Gogia Joining the dots on the media in Europe Politics Foreign Conflict Thu, 27 Jan 2011 19:04:43 +0000 Giorgi Gogia 57749 at https://www.opendemocracy.net