August 18, 2014 - 13:26 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The Azerbaijan government’s offensive against human rights defenders and nongovernmental organizations should lead to its suspension from an international transparency initiative, Human Rights Watch said.
Azerbaijan is a founding member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a prominent international coalition that promotes government openness in natural resource management, and sits on its governing board.
The Azerbaijani government’s escalating enforcement of restrictive new laws regulating nongovernmental organizations and other tactics threatens the survival of independent groups, Human Rights Watch said. That includes groups that focus on issues of direct concern to EITI.
“Azerbaijan’s government is squeezing activist groups to the breaking point while claiming to international audiences that it’s a leader on open civic participation and good governance,” said Lisa Misol, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Azerbaijan is blatantly violating EITI rules, and EITI cannot afford to be complicit in this hypocrisy.”
Azerbaijan’s government, which has long had a poor human rights record, began a relentless crackdown on government critics and independent groups in the months before presidential elections in 2013 and since then has escalated the pressure. Authorities have arrested and imprisoned at least 40 journalists, civil and political activists, and human rights defenders in the last two years on various trumped-up charges, including hooliganism, tax evasion, drug possession, and even treason. Among the government’s targets have been some of its most vocal critics, HRW said.
Beginning in the period before the October 2013 presidential elections, the government of Azerbaijan has engaged in a systematic campaign to crush political opponents and activists who challenge it. The government’s broader assault on independent groups has taken a particular toll on human rights activists. In mid-2014 there has been a dramatic escalation of politically motivated arrests, targeting several of the country’s leading human rights defenders, HRW said.
On July 30, the authorities arrested the activist Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus, a historian, on multiple charges, including treason. On August 2, Rasul Jafarov, another prominent human rights defender and government critic, was arrested on bogus charges of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of authority. Azerbaijani authorities arrested a human rights lawyer, Intigam Aliyev, on August 8 on charges identical to those brought against Jafarov.
The recent arrests have had a ripple effect, causing fear among other activists and weakening protections for all independent organizations. Human rights activists defend the freedoms of independent groups that are central to EITI’s concept of an “enabling environment,” and help defend these groups in court, if necessary, HRW said.