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Before Azerbaijan Election, Demands For HRDs and Journalists’ Release

October 9, 2013
Police clash with Protestors in Azerbaijan

With presidential election scheduled for October 9 in Azerbaijan, 22 human rights organisations and media watchdogs released a statementdemanding that imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders and political activists be released ahead of the polls. They have cautioned that unless these activists and journalists are freed and a raft of human rights respected, the elections will lack credibility.

“Presidential elections in Azerbaijan will not be credible unless people who are critical of the regime are released from prison, key legislation on free speech and the right to demonstrate meets international human rights standards. Over recent months we’ve witnessed the imprisonment and harassment of opposition leaders and their families and a sustained pressure on journalists and media organisations that report critically of the government. It’s absolutely clear that the authorities in Azerbaijan are preventing people from speaking freely. This seriously undermines democratic elections,” said Thomas Hughes, executive director of ARTICLE 19 which is one of the 22 signatories.
In an article for the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace blog Thomas de Waal says that despite holding elections, Azerbaijan is not a democracy. One reason is a constitutional referendum introduced in 2009 that did away with the two-term limit for presidents, has ensured that incumbent President Ilham Aliev will be elected for a third five-year term.  
Among the other factors is the arrest of opposition politicians and critics including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismailova in 2012. Freedom House in a press release in March 2012 also referred to a smear campaign involving a video about Ismailova. Freedom House said, “Ismailova is best known for her coverage of elite corruption, including among members of President Ilham Aliyev’s family.”
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said 10 journalists, three bloggers and two human rights defenders were behind bars. RSF quoted Emin Huseynov, chairman of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) saying: “Journalists and bloggers are among several key groups that have been harassed and threatened in the run up to the presidential election. The already alarming freedom of expression situation in the country became even direr when the authorities introduced the Internet defamation bill, which appears to be a tactic to silence critics online.”
Despite jailing of journalists and other acts against democracy, de Waal says that at a recent opinion poll 42% Azerbaijanis believed they were being treated fairly, although 39% did not.
“[w]hile people may not feel they are treated fairly by the central government, their grievances are not necessarily directed at the top leadership. (As associate professor of geography at Kansas University Shannon) O’Lear says this could either be ‘because other issues are more immediately relevant to people or because the Aliev reign appears to be too solid to threaten. People may be more likely to enact opposition through localized, tangible issues on which they feel they have a chance to make a difference,'” says de Waal.
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.