Azerbaijan accused of clampdown on freedoms ahead of election

The Azerbaijani government is engaged in a deliberate, abusive strategy to limit dissent. The strategy is designed to curtail opposition political activity, limit public criticism of the government, and exercise greater control over nongovernmental organizations. The clampdown on freedom of expression, assembly, and association have accelerated in the months preceding the presidential elections, scheduled for October 9, 2013.

The 100-page report, “Tightening the Screws: Azerbaijan’s Crackdown on Civil Society and Dissent,” documents the dramatic deterioration of the government’s record on freedom of expression, assembly, and association in the past 18 months. The authorities have arrested dozens of political activists on bogus charges, imprisoned critical journalists, broken up peaceful public demonstrations, and adopted legislation imposing new restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Human Rights Watch documented the arrest and imprisonment of several high-ranking members of opposition political parties, government critics with large followings on social media, and people who have frequently been involved in political protests.

“A vibrant public debate through the media and freedom to participate in peaceful public demonstrations are part and parcel of free and fair elections,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “It will hardly be a free and fair vote if so many people who criticize the authorities and report the news in the country are in jail or otherwise harassed into silence.”

The government should ensure that all those in detention on unsubstantiated, politically motivated charges including political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists, are released. The government should stop pursuing spurious charges against its critics, Human Rights Watch said.

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