May 18, 2012 - 20:05 AMT
Rights watchdogs: human rights situation in Azerbaijan deteriorating

Ahead of the Eurovision (22 to 26 May 2012), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan (HRCA) publish a briefing paper on deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan was the scene of a wave of peaceful protests in 2011: March and April saw hundreds gathering in streets demanding democratic reform and respect for human rights. Protesters have used internet-based social media, including facebook and blogs to mobilise supporters. Azerbaijani authorities have tried to suppress these nascent signs of popular dissent with a new wave of repression and intimidation, dramatically increasing pressure on civil society. Activists and government opponents were repressed and arrested in the wake of these protests, with 15 people still in detention.

In a bid by state authorities to circumvent an Azerbaijani “Arab Spring”, political oppression has increased in the country over the last year in response to the aforementioned popular protests. This period has been marked by violations of media freedom, as well as freedoms to associate and demonstrate, while the judiciary’s lack of independence and impartiality facilitates abuse of the justice system. As the regime tries to silence its critics, the space for freedom of expression is dramatically shrinking.

A year after the commencement of this wave of protests in Azerbaijan, tensions remain high with regular protests talking place.

On 1 March 2012, thousands of people gathered at an unauthorized rally in front of the Quba region government building, demanding the resignation of Quba's governor, Rauf Habibov. The demonstration turned into a riot, and several buildings were damaged and burned. Quba's governor was sacked the following day, and at least 8 protesters and journalists were arrested and prosecuted. Less than a week later, on 6 March 2012, a peaceful protest, organized in central Baku, was violently dispersed by police, with several demonstrators being arrested and beaten.