Amnesty International has denounced the Azerbaijani government’s crackdown on civil society as that country prepares to host the first European Games, saying threats, physical violence, and the imprisonment of government critics have become “the hallmark of the Azerbaijan regime.”
The London-based rights monitor makes the assessment in a report issued on March 4, 100 days before the opening ceremony of the European Games, an event similar to the Olympics but limited to athletes from Europe.
The report, titled Guilty Of Defending Rights: Azerbaijan’s Human Rights Defenders And Activists Behind Bars, documents abuses of more than 90 human rights campaigners by the regime of President Ilham Aliyev.
Amnesty International says the document highlights the “mounting persecution of government critics, detained under false charges, beaten, and threatened and deprived of urgent medical care and lawyers.”
The organization’s director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen, says Azerbaijan’s authorities are among “the most repressive in Europe and would certainly be on the medal winning podium if prizes were on offer for the number of activists and rights defenders behind bars.”
Aliev denies his government violates human rights.
But Amnesty International says at least 22 prisoners of conscience are now in jail or in detention on trumped up charges, ranging from fraud to abuse of drugs and treason.
It says human rights defenders who had given their testimony to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last year have been arrested.
Dalhuisen said these arrests have “effectively paralyzed civil society and closed the lid on freedom of expression.”
Human rights activist Leyla Yunus was arrested in July after calling for a boycott of the European Games because of the government’s worsening human rights record.
The 60-year-old was charged with treason, conducting illegal business, tax evasion, abuse of authority, fraud, and forgery, which Amnesty International describes as “trumped-up and politically motivated charges.”
Amnesty says authorities have also “intensified a crackdown” on journalists critical of the government.
Investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova was detained in December and faces an array of charges she says are politically motivated.
She has reported extensively on the financial dealings of President Aliyev and members of his family.
“With their eyes on Azerbaijan’s petrodollars, the international community has been remarkably silent about the country’s repressive tactics and human rights violations.” Dalhuisen said. “This is horribly shortsighted and a deep disservice to those currently languishing behind bars.”