Azerbaijan Continues Crack Down on Journalists, Human Rights Activists

Human rights abuses in Azerbaijan have garnered the attention of international NGOs concerned about the Azerbaijani government’s “relentless crackdown” on individuals with opinions contrary to those of alleged strongman and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Arif Yanus, a journalist and human rights advovate working for the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy was recently arrested and charged with violating travel restrictions recently imposed on him, though the trip in question had been to visit his wife and leading Azerbaijani human rights advocate Leyla Yunus, who is currently serving a three month sentence for “spying and treason” on the government, a charge frequently used to describe vocal opposition to the government. Among other issues, both Ilham and Leyla Yunus had been known for their advocacy of greater freedom of expression and reconciliation between officials in Baku and those of Armenia, a bitter rival that has for years been at odds with Azerbaijan and continues to be a source of violence, mainly in areas of high Armenian population.

The history of human rights abuses in Azerbaijan is well documented, and the arrest and detention of the Yanuses is not an isolated incident. Amnesty International currently holds that at least 20 political prisoners are being held either on charges similar to those brought against Yanus, or without being charged at all. On August 3 the government ordered that another journalist, Euro Vision’s Rasul Jafarov, be detained for three months for allegedly trumped up charges of tax evasion and “illegal entrepreneurship,” both of which have been described as overly ambiguous and provided without context or additional detail. Issues of human rights abuse will likely continue to be documented, and the criticism of Aliyev, one of only two presidents to rule Azerbaijan since it left the Soviet Union in 1991, likely to become more acerbic as economic liberalization becomes greater and Baku enters into increasing contact with the West.

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