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The seven main events in Azerbaijan in 2018

The Azeri Times

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Snap presidential elections

The presidential elections were to be held in October, but in February, President Ilham Aliyev exercised his constitutional right and called for early elections to be held in April. This decision was a complete surprise not only for the opposition, but also for the absolute majority of the ruling party.

• Op-ed: Who’s who in the Azerbaijani presidential elections

• How much will the upcoming elections cost Georgia?

Analysts cited various reasons for this decision: the desire to “synchronize” Azerbaijani elections with the elections in Russia and in Armenia; upcoming compromises in the Karabakh talks (if they were made, no one will know about them because power changed in Armenia at this time); expected price increases and other unpopular decisions (as a result, only public transport prices and other reasons were raised).

The elections ended, as expected, with a convincing victory for the incumbent president, who will rule for another seven years. The opposition boycotted, and international observers from the OSCE criticised the whole process.

The New Azerbaijan ruling party celebrates its election victory

Unrest in Ganja

The former head of the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Elmar Veliyev, and his bodyguard were victims of a terrorist attack on 3 July. Both survived, and the gunman, Yunis Safarov, was arrested immediately: he is accused of religious extremism (there has still been no trial).

But the real shock came a week later, on 10 July. The head of Ganja was rather unpopular in the city, and an alternative version immediately arose that the murder occurred on domestic soil.

A week later, a group of Ganja residents entered the central square of the city with the intention of demanding the release of Safarov. The police began to disperse the spontaneous rally, but in the confusion, two police officers were killed.

The main version of events was religious extremism and the struggle between different currents of Islam. President Ilham Aliyev said that these actions had nothing to do with religion and that the events had been set in motion from the outside of the country in order to destabilise the situation in Azerbaijan.

After 10 July, law enforcement agencies conducted several anti-terrorist operations, during which several people were killed and over ten were arrested. The investigation continues.

What really happened in Ganja can only be guessed at.

Ganja

Accident at the Mingechevir thermal power station

On 4 July, most of Azerbaijan was plunged into darkness after an accident occurred at the country’s largest power station. Backup sources could not bear the increased loads and was also disconnected from the grid.

• Blackout in Azerbaijan: how it happened, who is to blame and how will they account for it

• Azerbaijan’s electricity apocalypse

The energy crisis lasted for almost three days with brief periods of power. Subway cars got stuck in tunnels several times. The population got acquainted with the foreign word “blackout”.

There were different versions of the causes of the disaster. At an emergency meeting of the government, the president accused officials of negligence. After some time the head of Azerenergy, an electricity supplier, was dismissed.

The event did not pass without conspiracy theories: the accident almost temporally coincided with the Ganja unrest, which gave rise to the idea of a foreign conspiracy: “to destabilize the situation in Azerbaijan”.

The work on the Mingachevir thermal power plant has not yet finished. The Minister of Energy of Azerbaijan, Parviz Shahbazov, told Real TV on 13 December that “the diagnostic work continues”.

Release of the country’s “main political prisoner”

The chairman of the Republican Alternative (REAL) opposition party, Ilgar Mamedov, was labeled as “the main political prisoner of Azerbaijan”.

He was released on 13 August after serving five years out of seven on charges of ‘organising mass riots’.

The European Court of Human Rights and many international human rights organizations had earlier demanded his release.

As part of his release, he is still on parole and needs to check-in once a month with the police.

It is unlikely that the release of Ilgar Mamedov will greatly change the political situation in Azerbaijan. However, REAL, which in the meantime has turned from a movement into a party despite not being registered, can seriously intervene in the election campaign in the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2020.

Increased public transport fares

In early August, public transport fares increased by 150 per cent. This was only announced at midnight, and in the morning passengers were in for a surprise.

The authorities explained this decision by the desire to upgrade the vehicle fleet and improve passenger service. New buses, indeed, appeared in a few months, but one would be hard pressed to speak about a serious improvement in service.

The people reacted predictably: in the first week there were calls for protest demonstrations and a boycott of public transport. Visually, the flow of passengers has not decreased, and financial reports on revenue growth have not yet been published.

Caspian Status Agreement

On 12 August, five Caspian littoral states in the Kazakh city of Aktau signed a convention, which experts called the Constitution of the Caspian Sea. Disputes spanning back over 20 years about the principles of dividing the bottom of the largest lake in the world, which is rich in energy resources, were put to an end.

According to the convention, the Caspian Sea is declared neither sea nor lake, but a special body of water, the surface of which remains in common use, and the bottom and subsoil are divided into five sections by agreement between the countries. Also, the countries jointly discussed the rules of shipping, fishing, scientific research and the laying of pipelines.

Thus, the last obstacle to the implementation of the large-scale project of the Trans Adriatic pipeline (TAP) has been removed, which allows for the export of Azerbaijani – and possible, later, Turkmen – gas to European Union countries bypassing Russia starting in 2020.

According to the convention, military ships of non-Caspian countries are not allowed in the waters of the Caspian Sea. Experts believe that Russia, which has the most powerful fleet in the Caspian, has benefited from this point.

The case of Zamira Hajiyeva

The arrest of Zamira Hajiyev, the wife of the former Director of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, Jahangir Hajiyev, made the front pages of almost all the major media outlets in the world.

The 55-year-old Azerbaijani citizen became the first foreigner against whom the British authorities instituted the Unexplained Wealth Order.

Hajiyeva attracted the attention of the British National Agency for her luxurious lifestyle. At Harrods shopping centre alone, she spent about £16 million, and also bought more than £20 million in real estate.

The arrest was preceded by a hearing in the High Court of London, where Hajiyeva was unable to explain the origin of her capital. Now Zamira Hajiyeva has been released on bail pending trial and the Azerbaijani government is seeking her extradition to Baku.

Azerbaijan

Demonstration in support of Azerbaijani blogger on hunger strike in prison: fines and arrests

The Azeri Times

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Four demonstrators have been sentenced to three weeks in prison on charges of organising unauthorised gatherings. The demonstrators recently protested the launch of a new criminal case against well-known Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov.

Among the arrestees are two journalists and two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).

Another four participants were fined 300 to 400 manats (approximately 177 to 236 dollars).

Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike in protest against new charges of “attacking a prison guard” that are being levied against him.

The demonstration

Several dozen journalists and activists gathered on 3 January near the Neftchiler metro station on the outskirts of Baku, shouting “Freedom for Mehman!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”.

Five minutes later the police stopped the rally and detained 15 people.

Seven women were released at the police station, and the rest were taken to the Nizami District Court. Three other women were released there, and five men were left in custody until a court decision was made.

On 4 January the court sentenced journalist Afgan Sadigov to 22 days in prison, while journalist Nurlan Qahramanov and PFPA members Elmkhan Agayev and Sakhavat Nabiyev were sentenced to 21 days in prison.

 Police halt rally of family members of dead soldiers in Baku, one arrested

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Hunger strike

Mehman Huseynov is an Azerbaijani video blogger who has actively criticised the wealth and corruption of certain officials.

In early 2017 he was detained by the police. After his release, Huseynov complained that the head of the police station had tortured him. He was again arrested and received two years in prison on charges of defamation.

Local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates have spoken out in his defence, considering him a victim of political repression.

On 26 December 2018, with just a few months of his prison term remaining, Huseynov was accused of attacking a prison officer. A new criminal case has now been filed against him. In response, the blogger has gone on hunger strike.

The Caucasian Knot writes that on 30 December his condition worsened, and at the insistence of his brother, agreed to drink water.

The head of the public relations department of the Prison Service, Mehman Sadiqov, stated that Huseynov was not on a hunger strike and that he had no health problems.

Huseynov’s father tried to meet with him in the detention facility, but was refused access. His lawyers are also unaware of his current condition.

Mehman Huseynov has received outspoken support from Reporters Without Borders.

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Azerbaijan

Imprisoned Azerbaijani political blogger on hunger strike

The Azeri Times

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A prominent Azerbaijani political blogger and activist is on a hunger strike after the authorities brought new charges against him shortly before he was to be released from a two-year prison term.

Mehman Huseynov, once Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 on charges that he defamed police officers who allegedly tortured him. He had been scheduled to be released in March 2019 but on December 26, prison authorities brought new charges against him.    

Huseynov allegedly did not cooperate with an inspection in prison and attacked a guard, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov, according to a statement from the state prison service. “He physically resisted and injured Abdalov,” as well as “scattered and broke” items in an office in the prison, the statement said. The prison service also claimed that Huseynov had 461 manats (about $270) in his possession, which is against prison regulations. The new charges carry a potential prison term of up to seven years.   

The day after the new charges were brought, Huseynov, 26, stopped eating and drinking, his family reported.

This is the third time in the last year that the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed new charges on a detained political activist, thus prolonging their terms. Similar punishments were meted out to a religious activist, Telman Shiraliyev, and a senior member of the opposition Popular Front Party, Mammad Ibrahim.

“The government’s repunishments are the result of their understanding that they will never control [Huseynov] by imprisonment,” said Jamil Hasanli, an Azerbaijani historian and political activist, in a Facebook post. “The government does not want to forgive this young blogger for exposing their corruption.”

“We were expecting this kind of provocation against Mehman. He was warned that he would not be released in March,” his brother, Emin Huseynov – also a political activist, living in exile in Switzerland – told the news agency Turan. “The charges are nonsense. Who believes someone can beat prison officer while being under arrest?”

Emin Huseynov said that his brother was being punished for statements he made at his mother’s funeral in August: “Breaking me down is possible only with death. Today I have lost my mother. If they release me alive from jail, I will double my activities.”

Emin Huseynov said that Mehman started drinking water again after four days at the insistence of his family, though he continues to refuse food. His family and fellow activists say his health has dramatically deteriorated.

“Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate,” press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said in a December 31 statement.

Prison authorities have claimed that Huseynov is not in fact on a hunger strike. “Mehman Huseynov is having food and water. He keeps contact with his family by telephone. He is not conducting a hunger strike. His health is also normal, and he enjoys all the rights he is allowed under the law,” said Mehman Sadigov, a prison service spokesman.  

On January 3, a group of activists held a rally in Baku demanding the Huseynov’s release, with posters depicting Huseynov and chanting “Freedom to Mehman.” Ten of the activists were detained by police.


Lamiya Adilgiz
i is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist.

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Politics

Senator Marco Rubio Calls for Immediate Release of Mehman Huseynov

The Azeri Times

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US Senator Marco Rubio called on official Baku to immediately release blogger Mehman Huseynov.

“Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov remains imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Now he is in a critical situation due to a hunger strike. The government of Azerbaijan should release him immediately,” the senator wrote in his blog on Twitter.

Recall that Huseynov continues his hunger strike for the 10th day in connection with a new case brought against him about alleged resistance to the warden in the prison, where he is serving a two-year term on defamation charges against the police

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