Azerbaijan. The country received criticism from the
outside world for deteriorating conditions for human rights.
Amnesty International described how government critics were
detained on false charges, beaten, threatened and deprived
of emergency medical care and legal aid.
In January, an opposition journalist, Seymur Hezi, was
sentenced to five years in prison accused of hooliganism. In
February, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was
charged with reporting corruption in the presidential
family. Among other things, she was charged with abuse of
power and tax evasion. In a charge of defamation, she was
fined just over SEK 20,000. In the main trial, Ismayilova
was sentenced in September to seven and a half years in
prison for financial crime, a judgment which, according to
the lawyer, was illegal. Human Rights Watch described the
verdict as grotesque.
COUNTRYAAH, Ismayilova was awarded the Swedish Publicist Club's
Statement of Freedom and Press Freedom during the year for
Anna Politkovskaya's memory for her courage and her
revelations, among other things about TeliaSonera's economic
relations with Azerbaijan's power elite, a bribery business
that, according to judges, may be the largest in Swedish
history. The European Parliament called on Azerbaijan to
release Ismayilova, but the regime responded by stopping a
visit from the European Commission in the country.
In March, three regime critics were released in a major
amnesty. At the same time, the regime rejected the
representative of Human Rights Watch, who wanted to monitor
the trial of human rights activist Rasul Jafarov. He was
sentenced to six and a half years in prison for, among other
things, abuse of power and tax evasion. Human rights lawyer
Intiqam Aliyev was sentenced to seven and a half years in
prison camps for similar charges, and an opposition leader,
Fərəc Kərimli, who published information on the regime's
corruption, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison
for serious drug offenses.
The regime's harshest critic, human rights activist Leyla
Yunus, was sentenced in August to eight and a half years in
prison accused of financial crime. Her husband Arif Yunus
was sentenced to seven years on the same grounds. Both are
also charged with treason, a charge that could result in
life imprisonment. According to Human Rights Watch, the
allegations were false and intended to silence both. The
judges were appealed.
A regime-critical journalist, Emin Huseynov, was allowed
to leave Azerbaijan during the year after the regime had
long negotiations with Switzerland, at whose embassy
Huseynov had his refuge for ten months.
In October, two representatives of Amnesty International
were arrested and rejected when they arrived in the country.
In November, parliamentary elections were held, which
according to the OSCE, were so constrained by restrictions
that the organization did not consider it worthwhile to
participate with election observers. The main opposition
parties also boycotted the election in protest of the lack
of democracy. According to the official result, the New
Azerbaijan Government Party received 70 of the 125 seats in
Parliament. Other mandates went to parties that actively or
passively support the regime.
The low oil price caused severe economic hardship for
Azerbaijan, which depended on oil and gas for 95% of its
exports. This year's budget was calculated at an oil price
of $ 90 per barrel, but it ended up around $ 50. In
February, the currency was devalued by one third. In May, a
large number of entrepreneurs who had debts to a state bank
were arrested. They were released after partial payments.
The conflict with Armenia over the Armenian breakaway
republic of Nagorno-Karabakh reached its most violent level
since the end of the war in 1994. Firing at the border
became more common, both sides used artillery and other
heavy weapons, and more and more civilians were hit. During
the first four months of the year, 31 people were killed.
In December, imprisoned human rights activist Leyla Yunus
was released on condition of ill health. Then her husband
had also recently been released. Instead, opposition leader
Fuad Gahramanly was arrested.