HRW: Azerbaijan using drug charges to silence critics

Azerbaijani authorities are using spurious drug possession charges to lock up political activists critical of the government, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch documented four recent cases, in three of which the detainees alleged ill-treatment in police custody.

“Using bogus drug possession charges to silence critical voices is not new, but the latest cases are part of an intensified government campaign against its critics as elections grow near,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These arrests and beatings send a very clear message to anyone who wants to engage in serious activism.”

Theauthorities should conduct independent and effective inquiries into the ill-treatment allegations and release the activists, pending independent review of the charges, Human Rights Watch said.

The arrests of the four activists, between March and May 2013, are part of a crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan that began in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and has intensified as the country’s presidential election in October grows nearer.

Over the last two years, Azerbaijani authorities have arrested dozens of activists, journalists, and human rights defenders on questionable or no evidence, and accused them of various drug or weapons possession, hooliganism, and disturbance of public order offenses. Between August 2011 and May 2012 police arrested at least five journalists and human rights defenders on bogus drug charges.

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