Azerbaijan is a country located in Asia based on Digopaul. The conflict with Armenia over the Armenian
outbreak republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the spring led to
the worst fighting since the end of the war in 1994. Heavy
artillery and helicopters were used, among other things. On
both sides, casualties were claimed, and Azerbaijan
officially declared 31 dead soldiers, while other sources
spoke of three times as many. In April, a cease-fire was
reached, but the stoppage was broken.
Civil society in Azerbaijan experienced the worst
repression of a quarter of a century, according to the UN
Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. He explained
that in practice it was impossible for NGOs to work. Human
rights defenders are accused by the authorities of being a
fifth columnist for the West, or foreign agents. Regime
critics and investigative journalists have regularly been
arrested and sentenced to prison.
Oil and gas exports accounted for three quarters of the
country's economy, but the low oil prices over a couple of
years have led to severe economic crisis with growing budget
deficits and unemployment. In January, violent and unusual
protests broke out in several cities in the country.
Thousands of protesters participated, and military used
rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas to knock down the
protests. Hundreds of protesters were arrested. After the
protests, an opposition activist was sentenced to eight
years in prison.
The leaked so-called Panama Papers revealed that
President Ilham Alijev's family had taken control of
billion-dollar values in the privatization of six gold
mines. Alijev's daughters were said to own the majority of
In March, several imprisoned regime critics were
released. It was assumed to be linked to the economic
crisis, which forced the regime to negotiate, among other
things, the World Bank on credit. Two of those released were
opposition leader Tofiq Jakublu and human rights lawyer
Imprisoned investigative journalist Khadija Ismajilova
was awarded the UNESCO Press Freedom Award in 2016.
Ismajilova's work had made possible disclosures about
TeliaSonera's corrupt dealings with the Azerbaijani regime.
Azerbaijan came in last place when the International
Association for Homosexuals and Transgender People presented
its annual European ranking of human rights for LGBTQ
people. Homosexuality is formally legal in Azerbaijan, but
violent hatreds and discrimination against LGBTQ people are
common, as are discriminatory statements by politicians.
Several young activists from the democracy movement Nida
were arrested and convicted during the year for possession
of drugs. Activists accused the police of torturing them and
then fabricating allegations of drug crimes.
In May, Parliament approved a proposal for amnesty, which
was reported to affect about 10,000 prisoners, of which
about 3,500 would be released. It was unclear whether the
amnesty would include some political prisoners, but later
the journalist Khadija Ismajilova was released. Her sentence
of 7.5 years in prison was conditional on 3.5 years in
However, many opposition politicians, regime critics,
democracy activists and journalists were still imprisoned
for what they claimed were political activities. According
to the US Freedom House, there were more than 80 political
prisoners in Azerbaijani prisons. The EU called on the
regime to release all political prisoners.
In July, the regime closed a private TV station that
planned to broadcast an interview with Turkish opposition
leader Fethullah G邦len in the United States, accused by
Turkey of being behind a failed coup attempt. The TV channel
was considered to damage Azerbaijan's strategic ties with
Prosecutors also opened an investigation into supporters
of G邦len in Azerbaijan, and in August four men who were
alleged to have ties to G邦len were arrested and said to have
banned religious literature and material with G邦len's
speech. Critics said the accusations were a pretext to
arrest regime critics ahead of the September referendum on
expanded presidential power.
In September, opposition activist Natig Jafarli was
released, but opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov was still
In mid-September, opposition activists held an unusual
mass protest in the capital Baku, one of the largest
conducted in the country. The National Council for
Democratic Forces called for a halt to the planned
referendum to strengthen the presidential power. Voters
would decide on Alijev's proposal to extend the president's
term and, among other things, give him a mandate to announce
new elections and restrict the right of assembly. In
addition, the lower age limit for the presidential office
would be lowered, which would open the door for Alijev's
New protests led to clashes with the police, which seized
many protesters and also several journalists who monitored
Opposition activists urged the West to do more to
confront the regime after it escalated its repression of
journalists, democracy fighters and human rights defenders
ahead of the referendum.
The so-called Venice Commission criticized the proposed
amendments to the Constitution that would give the President
unprecedented power. The criticism was rejected by the
regime as hasty and unfounded.
According to the official figures, 91% voted yes to the
constitutional change. The turnout was 69.7%. In October,
Catholic Pope Francis visited the Shiite-dominated
Azerbaijan. The Pope led a mass in a cathedral in Baku and
met leaders of various religions in a mosque.
In October, new criminal charges came against former
Health Minister Ali Insanov, who would just be released
after an 11-year prison sentence for alleged bribery, among
other things. He was now threatened with a new trial for
alleged drug possession and for resisting a prisoner,
charges which, according to the lawyer, were unfounded.
Among other things, Insanov has accused President Aliyev of
personally seizing money from the state's sale of oil.