European Union officials have expressed their concerns over the ‘continued pressure’ on opposition activists, civil society and independent media in Azerbaijan on October 3rd, ahead of next week’s presidential election.
A joint statement issued from the office of Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief, and Stefan Füle, Enlargement Commissioner, said there was concern about the pressure on opposition activists in Azerbaijan, which includes intimidation, arrests on dubious charges, detentions and sentencing ‘without proper respect for international standards and rights of the accused.’ They said the EU expects Azerbaijan's authorities to ensure rapid, transparent, and fair investigations into the cases in order "to enable a favorable environment" for a free and fair presidential vote on October 9.
‘’Quite worrying’’ situation
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) already expressed its concerns earlier this week on October 2nd. The OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, called the situation regarding freedom of speech and the media in Azerbaijan ‘’quite worrying’’. She mentioned the adoption of laws ahead of the presidential election that could restrict free speech and limit critical voices in Azerbaijan and that the country ‘’still has a long way to go in order to really say that the situation has improved.’’
It has also been said that a group of journalists from independent and opposition media outlets has been attacked on October 4th by a pro-government mob during an opposition rally in the central Azerbaijani town of Sabirabad.
As the October election is coming closer, President Ilham Aliyev’s administration is tightening the screws. One month ago Human Rights Watch released a report, saying Azerbaijan had intensified a crackdown on activists and journalist to suppress criticism of long-term President Ilham Aliyev before the presidential election. The watchdog claimed that in the oil-rich South Caucasus nation political activists have been arrested on fake charges, critical journalists have been put in jail and legislation has been adopted which imposes new restrictions on fundamental freedoms of speech.
Chaotic presidential election debate
Despite opposition from Azeris who are tired of his rule, Aliyev is almost certain to win the upcoming October elections. Ten candidates have been registered of which only one, Camil Hasanli, is seen as a viable opposition voice. On September 19th the second televised presidential election debate with the 10 candidates took place. Hasanli used much of his time in the debate to rail against corruption and accused Aliyev and his family of wrongdoing. An increasingly agitated Hafiz Haciyev (Modern Musavat Party) pounded the table and gestured threateningly at Hasanli after the latter accused President Aliyev’s administration of rampant corruption. As Hasanli challenged Haciyev and other candidates to account for billions in missing funds, Haciyev threw a plastic water bottle at him. After this Haciyev was escorted out, and the debate ended with only 6 persons present, as the others, who had already made their statements, including Hasanli, left as well. Aliyev was not present at the debate, and only sent a representative to read from a prepared statement.
Aliyev has held power since 2003, after succeeding his father Heydar Aliyev, and it is widely expected that he will win the presidential election on October 9th.