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HOW AZERBAIJAN PUNISHES THE FAMILIES OF POLITICAL EMIGRES

The Azeri Times

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The sudden decision of the Azerbaijani authorities to hold an early presidential election has outraged the opposition, but how can they express their dissent? Perhaps only by protesting abroad. But when political emigres raise their voices, their families in Azerbaijan are punished in their place – threatened, persecuted, arrested and even tortured.

Azerbaijani opposition activists have launched a protest unprecedented in terms of еру public reaction to it: not only Azerbaijanis living in Europe have joined the campaign, but also dissenters in other countries and even other continents – Azerbaijani emigrants in the United States, Australia and Africa.

New flare-up

If a presidential election were scheduled in accordance with the constitution, it would be held on the third Wednesday of October this year. However, on 5 February, the president issued a sudden decree to push the election six months forward – to 11 April.

The opposition never had much of a chance anyway, but the rescheduling of the election reduced it to zero altogether.

The Azerbaijani government usually responds predictably to protests – it arrests all those involved. However, this time round, it has had to increase pressure on the relatives of those who are protesting abroad. Relatives of those emigres who left Azerbaijan a long time ago are persecuted now, too.

All main opposition forces have said they would boycott the election: the Musavat party, the Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party, and the civil movement REAL. They also organized a protest rally held in Baku on 10 March.

Emigres have expressed their dissent, too – a protest movement, called “Let’s talk about the dictator,” began in many European countries in February. It aims to circulate information about lawlessness in Azerbaijan and includes a flashmob: protesters hang posters in their communities calling Ilham Aliyev a dictator.

The first target of the Azerbaijani government were the families of activists and organisers of the protest abroad – Tural Sadigli, Mahammad Mirzali (Mirzaliyev) and Ordukhan Teymurkhan. These activists’ relatives were arrested, and there are reports of torture given to them.

Tural

Tural Sadigli is a youth activist who wages an active fight against the regime. In late 2013, he was arrested for participating in a protest and sentenced to 17 days of administrative arrest. When Sadigli came out of prison, he spoke about torture he had experienced.

Sadigli decided to leave after his colleague Elvin Kerimov was arrested in January 2014. Together they had run the opposition blog “Azad söz” (Free Speech): “The danger of arrest loomed over me as well, so I had to quickly leave the country in February,” Tural says.

Sadigli continued his fight against the government in 2014 from Germany. Soon after the start of the “Let’s talk about the dictator” protest, on 18 February, Sadigli’s father was detained in the courtyard of the building where he lives. On 22 February, Sadigli’s brother was abducted by unknown people in plainclothes in Baku’s Nasimi district.

“They captured me when I was going home with my wife and took me to a police station. When I asked them to introduce themselves, they alleged that I knew who they were and that we were traitors and enemies of the people,” Elgiz Sadigli, the activist’s brother, told Meydan TV.

The father, Alovsat Sadigli, who had no information about the whereabouts of his son, Elgiz, spent four days visiting all police departments, pre-trial detention facilities and hospitals. He called the police on a daily basis, and on 25 February he was told that a court had sentenced Elgiz to a 30-day administrative arrest for illegal drug trafficking and disobeying the police.

“I was only able to see Elgiz after speaking to the International Committee of the Red Cross. We were allowed to have a short meeting. In those four days, Elgiz had lost, perhaps, 10 kilograms of weight. His clothes were torn,” his father says.

That his son was tortured Alovsat Sadigli found out when Elgiz testified in the court of appeal: “They tried not to leave traces [on his face], they hit him in his stomach and back. They beat him in turns, in groups of four or five, and tortured him with electricity. When Elgiz asked them why they were doing it, he was told: you are traitors of your motherland, this is how we treat those who oppose the state. In the evening after his arrest, before taking him to an expert examination, they made him drink tea. Twenty minutes later, Elgiz felt dizzy and weak, and realised that they had put a narcotic drug in his tea. Later, naturally, the expert examination found the drug in his urine. Elgiz’s condition is still serious because of the beating.”

At approximately the same time, they also tried to influence Tural through another relative. Early on the morning of 20 February, his uncle Zahir Sadigov, a rural resident in Azerbaijan’s Agdam District, was brought to the police station.

Alovsat Sadigli (Tural’s father) says that at the police station, police directly demanded that his brother “influence” his nephew who had joined the opposition.

Ordukhan

Another activist, video blogger Ordukhan Teymurkhan, has been living in the Netherlands for 22 years but continues to maintain contact with his homeland:

“Until 2009, I had visited Azerbaijan each year and I simply could not be indifferent to what was happening there. After the Aliyevs came to power, I would take vacations for parliamentary and presidential elections and visit Azerbaijan to attend rallies.”

At one of those rallies, in April 2009, Teymurkhan was arrested for “offering resistance to the police”: “Because of that, my mother had a heart attack and died. Even the Dutch government did not intervene, although I was a citizen of that country. I was told that they could not break business relations with the government of Azerbaijan, and that I should save myself on my own. This meant: pay a bribe and leave. I had to pay a huge bribe.”

After that, Teymurkhan stopped traveling to Azerbaijan. He now holds protests in Europe against corruption and human rights violations, hoping to attract the attention of the world community to those problems. He took part in a famous protest in Strasbourg in 2014 – then, President Aliyev even had to interrupt his speech at PACE.

They’ll destroy my parents’ graves

The police arrested two of Ordukhan’s nephews on 17 February. They were also accused of resisting the police and given 30 days of arrest, which they are currently serving.

Alas, there is nothing new about it: Teymurkhan says that pressure on his relatives was exerted previously as well. For example, some of his relatives had in previous years been dismissed or expelled from universities. “After one of the protests, they threatened me that they would destroy my parents’ graves.”

In February 2017, the authorities did not confine themselves to arresting the bloggers’ nephews. They also brought his other relatives to the police, including women and even a two-year-old child.

Mahammad

Mahammad Mirzali (Mirzaliyev) has lived in France since 2016. He is a member of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party. Mahammad was arrested together with his father at a protest in 2013. Both were tortured in prison. In 2016, Mirzali left, fearing a new arrest.

Now he administers the Facebook page “Made in Azerbaijan”, on which he, along with Ordukhan Teymurkhan and Tural Sadigli, does live broadcasts and shares his views about political processes in the country.

Influence Mahammad

Mahammad Mirzali’s father and brother-in-law were arrested in January 2018.

“Then, we shared a cartoon titled ‘Azerbaijanis who are dependent on jackals’ on the page ‘Made in Azerbaijan’. I was told to immediately remove the cartoon and then film a video with apologies to the president,” Mahammad said, explaining why pressure was exerted on his family.

Otherwise, his detained relatives were told at the police station, the authorities will have to ‘put all Mirzalievs in jail’,” said a family member who wished to remain anonymous.

Mahammad’s father was released one day after he was detained, and his brother-in-law was released six days later. In February, his brother-in-law was arrested again and sentenced to 30 days of arrest on charges of resisting the police and is now in jail.

How relatives react

Alovsat Sadigli says that he will never give up on his son and will always support him, no matter what happens.

However, not all of the activist’s relatives agree to give him unconditional support.

The demand of a public disownment of an unwanted relative is one of the tests in the arsenal of the Azerbaijani government. For example, Ordukhan’s relatives failed to pass it: they officially declared recently that they disowned him.

Mirzaliyev’s father has not disowned his son, but one of Mahammad’s sisters and other relatives broke off their contact with him.

These “sanctions”, however, failed to stop the flashmob “Let’s talk about the dictator”. On the contrary, the inspirers of this protest managed to even expand it into a new movement (still unnamed), which more and more Azerbaijani emigrants dispersed across the world have been joining. “Azerbaijanis living in many countries of the world have joined us. As a sign of solidarity, they have been sending in videos and photos from Australia, the United States, Kuwait and even Africa. We have not met any of them, none of them has a political affiliation. These are ordinary people, many of whom left even for other reasons than political. We saw that it was already necessary to turn it into a movement, an organisation, and to hold these campaigns and protests in other forms,” Tural Sadigli says.

And then, maybe, this protest will take shape as a new wave that will succeed in bringing change to Azerbaijan.

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Corruption

UK aims at shady Azerbaijani money – but is it missing the target?

The Azeri Times

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Some have expressed concern that the UK’s first use of the “unexplained wealth order” targeted someone already out of favor with the Azerbaijani government.

The announcement that the wife of an Azerbaijani banker is the first target of British efforts to crack down on foreigners’ illicit wealth was welcomed by good government advocates, but raised concerns that London may only be aiming at figures who are out of favor with their home governments.

On October 10, British media reported that the target of Britain’s first “unexplained wealth order” is Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, the former head of the International Bank of Azerbaijan. The order is a recently introduced instrument allowing British law enforcement officers to demand explanations when a person’s wealth does not correspond to their declared income. It is aimed at cracking down on the vast amounts of ill-gotten wealth – much of it from the former Soviet Union – parked in London.

There is no shortage of dodgy Azerbaijani money in the UK. The investigation into the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” for example, found that shell companies based in the UK played a key role in the Azerbaijani political elites’ money-laundering and influence-buying operations.

The Hajiyevs, meanwhile, had already been cast out of the Baku political elite: In 2015, Hajiyev was sentenced by an Azerbaijani court to 15 years in prison for misuse of funds.

The government-friendly Azerbaijani press – not typically a fan of stories about Azerbaijanis falling afoul of investigators in the West – widely reported the news about Hajiyeva. “All of England is talking about Zamira Hajiyeva,” crowed a headline on Haqqin.az, a news site connected to Azerbaijan’s security forces.

Two days before the news broke in the UK, in fact, Haqqin had already reported that Hajiyeva was the target of the order. The story cited the Telegram channel Banksta – a Russian-language channel covering banking affairs – but a sister website of Haqqin, Azeri Daily, had named Hajiyev as early as July.

That Hajiyeva was targeted, out of the many potential subjects of the order, raised some consternation among observers.

“There is an interesting issue with the case of Zamira Hajiyeva,” tweeted Anar Mammadli, an Azerbaijani human rights activist. “After all, she and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, are not the first Azerbaijani civil servants to buy property in London. Will the other official-families’ ‘contributions’ to the British economy be investigated? After all, they are not alone!”

“What a can of worms,” tweeted John Heathershaw, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies post-Soviet financial ties with the West. “Many thousands more potential cases. Or are we just going to look at those who have fallen out of favour with their home governments?”
“What a can of worms,” tweeted John Heathershaw, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies post-Soviet financial ties with the West. “Many thousands more potential cases. Or are we just going to look at those who have fallen out of favour with their home governments?”

“Hajiyev and his wife have already fallen foul of the system in Azerbaijan. I don’t imagine the Azerbaijani regime will be overly concerned to see this investigation. Who knows, maybe they even had a hand in triggering the investigation,” tweeted analyst Alex Nice.

“My take on the UWO is that it looks like a missed chance to send a big message,” tweeted Oliver Bullough, a journalist who has extensively covered post-Soviet wealth in the UK. “Jahangir Hajiyev had already been jailed in Azerbaijan so why not use the standard asset recovery route, as with Gulnara Karimova? UWOs are supposed to be for assets that can’t be seized otherwise.”

Nevertheless, the move was welcomed by good government advocates. “UWOs should now be used more widely to pursue more of the £4.4 billion worth of suspicious wealth we have identified across the UK,” Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, told the BBC.

And some in the region wondered if their oligarchs would be next. “It seems that investigators from the National Crime Agency started from the letter ‘A,’” joked Uzbekistani writer Hamid Ismailov on twitter. “Uzbek ‘nouveau riches’ might think that they are last in the running order:) in between Uganda and Zambia.”

Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.

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Politics

Political émigré who returned home to visit critically ill father arrested on fraudulent drug-related charges

The Azeri Times

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Azad Hasanov, Musavat party member and political exile living in Lithuania, has been arrested during a short return to his home country and charged with drug trafficking.

According to his lawyer, Osman Kazimov, the Khatai District Court sentenced him to four months in detention on drug-related charges. Under Article 234.4.3 (illegal manufacturing, purchase, storage, transportation, transfer or selling of sale of drugs), Hasanov faces between five and twelve years in prison.

On 11 October, Musavat deputy chairman Sakhavat Soltanli reported that Hasanov had disappeared and was likely arrested. He has been a member of the Surakhany Musavat branch since 2003 and had relocated to Lithuania in 2014, where he was granted political asylum.

He returned to Baku on 10 October, upon learning that his seriously ill father was about to die.

According to his spouse, Tarana Hasanova, he did not have any problems flying into Baku airport: “His father has been seriously ill and is about to die. He arrived on 10 October during the night. He did not have any problems crossing the border and stayed with his father until noon. He later went to the Mosque to pray. That’s where people in civilian clothes stopped him and forced him into a car. When his brother tried to help him, they pushed him aside and told him they are from the police.”

Hasanov’s fate recalls the case of lawyer Emin Aslan who was forced into a car by people in civilian clothes a few days after returning from his studies in the US. He later was found to be held at the Office for Combating Organized Crime, and spent 30 days in detention for failing to obey a police officer’s orders.

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Society

European film festival in Baku: a Dutch cat, a Hungarian horse and a ‘faceless’ French artist

The Azeri Times

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The 9th European Film Festival has officially begun in Baku.

The event is organised by the European Union in Azerbaijan and will end on 21 October, until which time the public is invited to view 19 European films free of charge.

Here are some of the films we recommend:

The documentary film Wild Amsterdam, accompanied by director Mark Verkerk and producer Ignas van Schaick, will be screened at the festival. The film centres around the animals of Amsterdam, but not in a way you might expect: the story is told from the perspective of a cat, who shows us how squirrels, pigeons and waterfowl live in Amsterdam’s canals and parks.

The directors say that the consultation with ecologists and other specialists took half a year by itself. The film is a viewing wonder, dynamic and modern. For example, one scene depicts the retrieval of bicycles from the bottom of the canal with the help of special machinery. The scene looks as if it has been cut right out of a thriller because of how it traumatises the crabs living on the bottom.

The film Kincsem – Bet on Revenge is from Hungary, and also concerns the fate of an animal – a racehorse who belongs to a broke aristocrat forced to earn money through racing. However, the film is not about horseracing, but rather about competition between members of high-class society in the Austrian Empire. The film’s action revolves around the young aristocrat who becomes involved in a dispute with an Austrian officer, whose daughter later falls for the main character.

Barbara, a film by Christian Petzold, is a drama shot in 2012 which takes viewers back to 1980 when Germany was still divided by the Berlin Wall. The main heroine of the film lives in the German Democratic Republic and dreams of leaving. Forced to work in the country and under constant surveillance, she methodically prepares her plan to escape. At first it seems everything will work out and that nobody can prevent her from leaving, including the all-powerful Stasi. However, an inconvenient and unexpected attachment to one of her colleagues jeopardises her escape.

Latvian film Dream Team 1935 by Aigars Grauba was also shot in 2012 and also offers an excursion into the past – to the pre-war period of 1935 when the first European Basketball Championship took place in Geneva. Participation in the championship was a great chance for national teams to go down in sports history. The Latvian team seizes the opportunity, though young trainer Baumanis soon comes to understand that it is far more important to overcome oneself than one’s enemy…

Halima’s Path is the work of Croatian director Arsen Anton Ostoyich, and is dedicated to one of the bloodiest wars of the second half of the 20th century – the war in former Yugoslavia. The action takes place in the post-war years in Bosnia. A woman by the name of Halima who lost her husband and son (though not biological) dreams of finding their remains in order to give them a proper burial. She is only able to do this with the help of DNA analysis. While she is able to find her husband’s remains, she finds it difficult to do so in the case of her son. Halima must then go through some hardship to find the biological mother of her son in order to find him.

The French film See You Up There is also devoted to war and its consequences. This time, the action takes place during World War I. The story begins in the final days of the war, when two young soldiers – an artist from a wealthy family, Edouard, and a former bank employee, Albert – are forced to go to their certain deaths on the orders of a malicious captain. Edouard, whose face has been disfigured, saves Albert, which firmly binds the two friends together: now Edouard is an ‘invisible’ artist, and Albert his impresario.

In addition to film screenings, the festival includes workshops and discussions with European directors.

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