[QODLink]
Central & South Asia

Azerbaijan accused of pre-election crackdown

Rights group Human Rights Watch says dozens of people arrested in an "attempt to stifle government critics".

Last Modified: 02 Sep 2013 00:40
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Ilham Aliyev has been in power since succeeding his father in 2003 [AFP/Getty Images]

Azerbaijan has intensified a crackdown on activists and journalists to stifle criticism of long-term leader Ilham Aliyev before presidential elections in October, campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

Authorities in the oil-rich South Caucasus nation have arrested dozens on trumped-up charges, dispersed anti-government rallies and adopted laws curbing freedom of speech and assembly in the past 18 months, the organisation said in a report.

Azeri authorities could not be immediately reached for comment, but Baku has repeatedly denied abusing human rights in the past.

"Prosecuting people who criticise the authorities and report on issues of public interest is a cynical and transparent attempt to stifle government critics," HRW researcher Giorgi Gogia said.

The European Union and other bodies in June accused the ex-Soviet state of tightening curbs on free expression by making defamation over the Internet a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.

HRW said authorities had in particular targeted youth activists critical of the authorities on social networks.

'Trumped-up' charges

Several members of opposition youth movement NIDA were arrested earlier this year accused of plans to instigate violence during protests, and a number of journalists and rights workers were detained on fake charges, it said.

"The authorities have used a range of trumped-up criminal charges, including narcotics and weapons possession, hooliganism, incitement, and treason to lock up these critics."

According to the report, Azeri authorities have also increased fines for unsanctioned protests by up to 100 times and expanded from 15 to 60 the maximum prison term for public order misdemeanours often used to jail protestors.

Western powers are generally critical of Azeri human rights violations, the report said, but the reported abuse has not had a major impact on their relations with Baku.

"That is perhaps due to Azerbaijan's geostrategic importance and hydrocarbon resources," HRW said.

The mainly Muslim Caspian Sea nation, ruled by Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father in 2003, has been courted by Western powers because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe.

Aliyev, 51, is almost certain to win the upcoming October polls in a tightly controlled political system, despite mounting opposition from Azeris tired of his rule. 

336

Source:
Reuters
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
Featured
Tech entrepreneurs predict cross-border California-Mexico region will be the new Silicon Valley.
The new military government has issued warnings that it will soon start to clampdown on immigration offenders.
As Snowden awaits Russian visa renewal, the world mulls role of NSA and expects more revelations from document trove.
A handful of agencies that provide tours to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea say business is growing.
A political power struggle masquerading as religious strife grips Nigeria - with mixed-faith couples paying the price.
join our mailing list