A protester gagged and held by police during a rally in Baku, Azerbaijan, 2 April 2011. At least 150 protesters were arrested.
Despite a systematic campaign of harassment by the authorities, young Azerbaijani activists are determined to find a way to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. In the face of a government crackdown on dissent, the internet has become the last refuge for free expression in Azerbaijan. A small but determined group of young activists are video blogging, posting and tweeting their calls for democratic reforms and an end to pervasive government corruption.
In response, the government is prosecuting more and more activists on trumped-up charges. The overwhelming majority of these individuals are convicted after unfair trials and sentenced to long prison terms.
The Azerbaijani authorities are doing everything in their power to discredit and intimidate them. State television has broadcasted a series of interviews and documentaries which portrayed Facebook users as “mentally ill”. Universities, controlled by the state, routinely warn students to steer clear of criticizing the status quo or face expulsion.
At the moment, it appears that oil rich Azerbaijan can rely on trade partners, many of them from the European Union, turning a blind eye to their human rights violations. Consequently, the Azerbaijani government continues to pay little heed to the criticism of human rights organizations and human rights institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights. The authorities use their powerful state machinery, paid for by oil and gas profits, to silence dissenting voices. They are likely to continue doing so with ease and impunity as long as foreign governments are reluctant to support these voices.
Take Action Now:
As the European Commission oversees bilateral trade relations between European Union member states, we are calling on José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission:
• To ensure that the European Union gives priority to significant improvements in respecting and protecting human rights of the people of Azerbaijan while co-operating with Azerbaijan in trade negotiations;
• To raise cases where individuals’ rights have been violated when it is necessary; in accordance with the European Union guidelines on Human Rights Defenders;
• To call for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in all dialogues with the Azerbaijani authorities.