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Azerbaijan’s Despotic Ruler Throws ‘Tantrum’ In Unprecedented Crackdown On Pro-Democracy Rivals

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Azerbaijan's Despotic Ruler Throws 'Tantrum' In Unprecedented Crackdown On Pro-Democracy Rivals

Facing growing public dissent over corruption, a mismanaged economy, his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and no progress in the country's long-running conflict with neighboring Armenia, Azerbaijan's strong-arm ruler Ilham Aliyev decided to crack down on the opposition.
In an action widely seen as an attempt to eliminate pro-democracy advocates and political rivals once and for all, as many as 120 opposition figures and supporters have been rounded up in the past two weeks by Aliyev's security services.

They include senior members of the largest opposition group, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP).
Political analysts say charges of "attempting to overthrow the government" against the AXCP's Fuad Qahramanli and Mammad Ibrahim suggest Aliyev's regime is ultimately seeking to arrest and silence AXCP leader Ali Karimli.

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Karimli offered on July 30 to be arrested in exchange for the release of more than 40 AXCP members who he says have been jailed on bogus charges.
Karimli also says he is ready to resign as leader of the AXCP if it helps bring an end to the crackdown on the opposition.

Azerbaijani oppositionist Ali Kerimli (file photo)
Azerbaijani oppositionist Ali Kerimli (file photo)

The immense crackdown has also targeted members of other parties within an opposition alliance known as the National Council of Democratic Forces — an umbrella group that includes the AXCP, the Musavat Party, the Muslim Unity Movement, and others who have fought against Aliyev's oppressive rule.
An editorial by The Washington Post on July 29 said Aliyev has "blown a gasket" with a "tantrum" that is "threatening to obliterate what remains of independent political forces in Azerbaijan."
"Mr. Aliyev's use of the iron fist to destroy his critics is the opposite of democracy and why everyone should worry about this intemperate tyrant," the editorial concluded.

'Death Of The Dream For Democracy'
Alex Raufoglu, a Washington-based Azerbaijan specialist for Amnesty International, told RFE/RL that Aliyev's latest crackdown has been ominously calculated.
"President Aliyev feels he has a green light for this crackdown because Western democracies are too busy right now focusing on their own problems with the coronavirus and their economies," says Raufoglu, who also is a journalist for the independent Turan news agency.
"Thanks to COVID-19 and recent border clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces, Aliyev has found that he can go after his opponents without having to face international criticism," Raufoglu told RFE/RL.
"With a snap of his finger, President Aliyev can decide everything himself in the cases against his rivals without any due process," Raufoglu says. "This could be the death of the dream for democracy in Azerbaijan."
Indeed, Azerbaijan's government has a long history of using its criminal justice system to silence political rivals and journalists who criticize the corruption that has enriched Aliyev's relatives and inner circle of allies.
Aliyev has been the president of Azerbaijan since 2003, when he leapfrogged into the post upon the death of his father. His authoritarian rule has shut down independent media outlets and suppressed opposition parties while holding elections deemed neither free nor fair by international monitoring groups.
Baku has also banned international monitors from groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that have documented how authorities routinely use torture to extract false confessions from political prisoners jailed on trumped-up charges.
Qahramanli has been imprisoned twice on charges that Human Rights Watch has described as politically motivated violations of his rights.
And such heavy-handed tactics from Azerbaijan's criminal justice system have seemingly had a chilling effect on many of Aliyev's domestic critics.
Countdown To Crackdown
On November 2, the National Council of Democratic Forces canceled an anti-government protest it had planned in Baku.
Opposition leaders said they did so because they feared Aliyev's security services would use "strong provocations" to disrupt the rallies and discredit their members.
Other recent demonstrations have been violently dispersed by police in Baku.
In February, when Azerbaijan staged early parliamentary elections, opposition parties accused Aliyev of limiting their ability to campaign and called for a boycott of the vote.
Meanwhile, the World Bank warned that Azerbaijan faced the prospects of a severe "economic contraction" in 2020 due to the coronavirus and falling global prices for its main export, oil.
In March, in a speech ostensibly about his plans to combat the pandemic, Aliyev intensified his attacks on the opposition — describing them as "enemies who are among us," and a kind of "fifth column" of "traitors" whose "main goal is to destroy Azerbaijan."
"The isolation of representatives of the fifth column will become a historical necessity" during the pandemic, Aliyev proclaimed.
Looking back on that speech, Raufoglu says the crackdown Aliyev launched after Azerbaijan's July 12-16 military clashes with Armenia along their border is "unprecedented" even by Azerbaijani standards.
"Increasingly, we see that Aliyev is trying to take advantage of the country's national crises — whether it is about public health or a potential war with Armenia," Raufoglu says.
A total of 11 Azerbaijani soldiers, including a popular general, were killed in the border clashes along with four Armenian soldiers.
Baku and Yerevan have accused each other of starting the fighting.

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But Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus, tweeted on July 15 that it is "unclear" which side is responsible.
"As soon as one side starts, the other responds, neither backs down," de Waal wrote. "The conflict sits deep in both nations. We see a rallying round the flag in both countries. That's useful to both governments [as it] distracts the people from economic woes and pandemic."

'Teach Them A Lesson'
Indeed, the AXCP's leadership announced on July 13 that the opposition would not stage any political protests as long as fighting continued along the border.
"We are behind our state and the army," AXCP leader Karimli declared.
The next day, Azerbaijanis from all political persuasions gathered at Baku's Freedom Square for what initially appeared to be a spontaneous display of patriotism and support for the country's armed forces.
But instead of deploying their usual forceful tactics to break up unauthorized demonstrations, police herded and ushered the crowd several kilometers across Baku to a national cemetery near parliament called Martyr's Alley.

People carry the Azerbaijni national flag as they rally in support of the country's army in Baku on July 14.
People carry the Azerbaijni national flag as they rally in support of the country's army in Baku on July 14.

Martyr's Alley contains the graves of fallen national heroes from Azerbaijan's long-running conflict with ethnic Armenian separatists over Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
At the cemetery, late in the demonstration, a group of people emerged from the crowd and briefly stormed into the nearby parliament building before being removed by police.
Opposition leaders claim the incident was a "provocation" staged by Aliyev's henchmen to justify the harsh political crackdown that would follow.
In fact, they say, the AXCP's Qahramanli and Ibrahim did not even attend the July 14 rally.

But the next day, on July 15, Aliyev made a nationally televised speech accusing the pro-democracy opposition of being "enemies" who were "worse than the Armenians."
"We have won a great victory and the people supported us," Aliyev claimed. "The people came to Martyr's Alley to celebrate the victory and honor the memory of our martyrs, and some shameless elements cause riots there?"
"This will not happen," Aliyev declared. "It is not the beginning of the 1990s. We have taught and will teach them a lesson."
Aliyev said he'd been "informed" that "some opposition structures, including representatives of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, infiltrated the masses and tried to induce people to take illegal actions."
"They were also among the lawbreakers and have already been identified," Aliyev said, adding that he would "not pay attention" to criticism from the Council of Europe or other "international organizations" about his crackdown on the opposition.
Aliyev also said he would "block anti-Azerbaijani" candidates in the future from challenging his government and trying to "slander Azerbaijan."
Raufoglu says the effort by police to direct the crowd toward parliament, as well as Aliyev's haste to blame the AXCP for storming the building, "raises many questions about what really happened" during the July 14 rally.
"In this moment of rallying around the flag, Aliyev used the incident to immediately go after his political rivals," Raufoglu told RFE/RL. "For Aliyev to use that rally as a reason to go after the opposition is absolutely staggering — even by Azerbaijan's standards."

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‘Our Animals Are Dying’: Water Goes Bad In Azerbaijani Village

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Residents in the village of Banka in Azerbaijan say they lack basic water supplies for themselves and their animals after water in the Kura River dropped and became contaminated with salt water from the nearby Caspian Sea. Experts believe farming, a major hydroelectric plant upstream, and climate change could be to blame.Read Original Article here by RFERL

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Citizens of Baku to remain stuck at home? No info on future as last day of strict quarantine approaches

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As of August 3, citizens of Baku and 14 other cities and regions in Azerbaijan have spent six weeks living under a strict quarantine regime due to the coronavirus.

Since June 21, people have been allowed to go outside for three hours a day after receiving SMS permission from the authorities, and all stores are closed, excluding grocery stores and pharmacies.

Public transport is not running on Saturdays or Sundays.

The authorities’ most recent decision states that the quarantine will end at 6 am on August 5. However, no statement has been released about lifting the quarantine, and there is a growing fear that it may be extended.

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Within the past three weeks, there were several times when the quarantine was scheduled to be lifted, but was instead extended. But the authorities had issued a statement informing citizens ahead of time.

Azerbaijan continues to celebrate Eid al-Adha, and August 4 is the first working day after the holiday.

MP of the Milli Mejlis Musa Guliyev reported some positive news:

“The roads between cities and regions will reopen, the metro will start running again, and people will be able to leave the house without SMS permission. But at the same time, we musts not forget that the epidemic is still going on and we must adhere to safety measures.”

However, people on social networks have more to say about the pessimistic forecast of the chief infectious disease specialist Jalal Isaev.

He said that the authorities may extend the strict quarantine for several more weeks in order to bring the number of new cases a day down into the double digits.

Over the past 24 hours, 286 new cases have been reported in Azerbaijan, bringing the total since the beginning of the epidemic to 32,443 cases. Eight more people have died, bringing the total in Azerbaijan to 462. 27,113 people have recovered.

Baku, Tbilisi Avenue. Photo JAMnews

The post Citizens of Baku to remain stuck at home? No info on future as last day of strict quarantine approaches appeared first on English Jamnews.

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Azerbaijani Ombudsman denies death of political prisoner. New reports of torture in prisons. Updated

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12.00 / August 2

It remains unclear whether Azerbaijani political prisoner Fuad Qahramanli, a board member of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, is alive or has died in prison.

On the evening of August 1, information about his possible death from torture appeared on social media [more in the report below]. Then, former prosecutor Rufat Safarov denied this message on his Facebook page.

“The head of the department for the prevention of torture of the Azerbaijani Ombudsman’s Office, Rashid Rumzadeh, said that Fuad Qahramanli is alive,” Safarov wrote with reference to lawyer Bahruz Bayramov.

The lawyer was promised that on Monday, August 3, they would try to arrange a meeting with Qahramanli.

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Rufat Safarov, in the same post, critically noted that the ombudsman’s staff should have visited the prisoner after the alarming messages on social media and provided reliable information to his family and friends.

Instead, they postponed the issue for several days.

With the hope that Fuad Qahramanli is still alive, opposition blogger Bakhtiyar Hajiyev also writes:

I appealed to the Ombudsman about the state of Qahramanli. About half an hour later, I was informed that he was alive and that he was currently in the Kurdakhan detention center. It is reported that his condition and conditions of detention are good.

The issue is now under the personal control of Ombudswoman Sabina Aliyeva. I look forward to a solution to the issue of organizing meetings between prisoners and their families and lawyers.

There is very little information on the state of political prisoners in Azerbaijan’s prisons as a whole.

Blogger Nihad Huseyn wrote on his Twitter that opposition activist Seymur Akhmedov was able to send a letter from prison to his loved ones, in which he reported being tortured daily and beaten.

Akhmedov, like Qahramanli, was detained among 45 opposition activists for participating in a rally in Baku in support of the army on the night of July 15.

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Seymur Akhmedov writes that … a man in civilian clothes beat him for hours in the building of the Narimanov district police station,” blogger Nihad Huseyn said.

19.00 / August 1

Political prisoner Fuad Qahramanli may have died from torture in a Baku prison on August 1, local social media write. There is no official confirmation or evidence yet.

Fuad Qahramanli is one of more than 45 members of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan who were detained after the July 15 rally in Baku in support of the army.

“Ilham Aliyev [President of Azerbaijan], if something happens to the people you have arrested, you are responsible for it,” his ex-wife Zumrud Yagmur wrote on her Facebook page.

While no official confirmation has been given, a number of messages to effect have been published, amongst others by well-known investigative journalist Khadija Ismail:

Various sources say that PFPA executive director Fuad Qahramanli was tortured. There is also information that he is dead. Lawyer Bahruz Bayramov was not allowed to see him from the moment of his arrest.

“Two other party members, Baba Suleiman and Seymur Akhmadov, were also severely tortured and threatened with rape. Baba reportedly agreed to sign false statements against party chairman Ali Karimli after being tortured.

“We try to check the reports. Lawyers are not allowed to see their clients, and there is no effective mechanism against torture in Azerbaijan.”

Azerbaijani bloggers have recently begun to conduct a daily report in two areas: statistics on coronavirus and the number of oppositionists detained by the authorities.

The 45 opposition activists who were recently arrested were initially charged with illegal protests during the rally in support of the army on the night of July 15.

However, the charges then escalated, and some of the detainees are now charged with ‘attempting to overthrow the government’.

The post Azerbaijani Ombudsman denies death of political prisoner. New reports of torture in prisons. Updated appeared first on English Jamnews.

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