The international community must not be duped by surface-level efforts to smooth out Azerbaijan’s human rights record, which remains dire, said Amnesty International in a report published today, ahead of this week’s inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe race in Baku.
“The arrival of the world’s premier racing series in Baku must not steer attention away from the government onslaught on civil society,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Behind the glitz lies an everyday reality in which authorities have shut down NGOs and arrested or harassed their leaders,” Denis Krivosheev said.
Since the beginning of 2016, faced with falling oil revenues and rising international pressure, the Azerbaijani authorities have released several dozen prisoners. Among those released are twelve prisoners of conscience, including award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.
While widely welcomed internationally, these pardons have neither addressed any of the long-standing human rights concerns in Azerbaijan, nor put an end to the practice of arrests of government critics on fabricated charges.
“The recent release of NGO leaders and activists should not fool anyone into thinking that the wind in Baku is blowing in a different direction. Those released are no freer to speak out now than they were while they were in jail. Their vacant cells have been filled with new victims,” said Denis Krivosheev.