NEW YORK (April 12, 2018) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the reelection of authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev in rigged elections held yesterday in Azerbaijan. The country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) announced that Aliyev won with over 80 percent of the vote, and that “official” preliminary results would be revealed in the next few hours. The vote took place amid widespread criticism after Aliyev changed the date of the election; it was originally scheduled to take place in October. Opposition parties criticized the move as an attempt to prevent their candidates from running and mounting a strong campaign. As a result, some leading parties decided to boycott the “snap” election. This boycott, and selective approvals of candidates by the CEC, meant that yesterday’s election did not feature serious contenders.
“Azerbaijan is run like a textbook dictatorship. The president incumbent and his old-guard clique have long prevented elections from being a real and viable route to power for the opposition,” HRF President Thor Halvorssen said. “Aliyev will go to any length to disrupt the democratic process: rigging most, if not every, election since he first came into power; cultivating a cult of personality; kidnapping and jailing journalists; stuffing ballots; eliminating independent press; imprisoning opposition figures; intimidating civil society by jailing its leaders — you name it. Ever since taking power, he has made meaningful political participation and competition impossible.”
This is Aliyev’s fourth term in office since 2003, when he replaced his late father, former KGB operative Heydar Aliyev, in yet another sham electoral process. Since then, Aliyev has overseen regular human rights abuses and worked to increase his influence. In 2016, the Azerbaijani government held another rigged vote to pass 29 constitutional amendments, allowing Aliyev to rule for life and paving the way for his wife and son to enter political office. Previous elections were also fraught with irregularities. During the 2013 presidential election, the government accidentally published the “results” of the election on an iPhone app the day before the vote was scheduled to take place. Ilgar Mammadov, the one candidate who could have posed a threat to Aliyev in the 2013 election, was arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison; he is still in jail today.
The Azerbaijani regime operates a “revolving door” system to intimidate civil society leaders and human rights defenders; if the regime releases one activist, it arrests another. This relentless intimidation and persecution has discouraged many civil society leaders and youths from getting involved in politics and civic life. The regime also regularly arrests and imprisons journalists in politically-motivated trials; Afqan Muxtarli and Aziz Orujev are just two examples. Independent media outlets are denied a license to operate or outright banned for posing a “national security threat.”
According to a January 2018 report from the Turan Information Agency, one of few independent media outlets operating online from the country, there are currently 161 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, including journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society actors. According to exiled human rights activist Leyla Yunus, who herself spent years in prison for her activism, 14 of them are journalists and bloggers who were arrested for “desecrating” Ilham Aliyev's policies online. Yunus, who is also the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, is due to speak at the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway this upcoming May.
“Democratic countries are letting Aliyev get away with his authoritarian M.O. A preliminary report released in March by a large OSCE mission — deployed to oversee the election by invitation of the president — hardly reflects the magnitude of the regime’s systematic campaign against dissent. Aliyev’s sham elections violate international law, which calls for genuine periodic elections that guarantee the free expression of the will of electors,” said Centa B. Rek, international legal associate at HRF.
Last year revealed the extent to which Western actors are complicit in consolidating Aliyev’s power. In 2017, an OCCRP report unearthed an international money laundering scheme involving $2.9 billion benefitting the Azerbaijani elite and former members of the Council of Europe. The report showed that Council of Europe members were even “paid to vote down a highly critical report on Azerbaijan’s human rights record and election process.”
“Azerbaijan lost all hope for free and fair elections 15 years ago, when Aliyev essentially inherited his father’s throne in marred elections. Azerbaijanis are hostages of a dictator whose single aim is to accumulate power. Anyone who hopes to oppose him must start by looking at powerful and wealthy people abroad that benefit from Azerbaijan’s oil-rich kleptocracy, and who maintain a uniform silence as dissident after dissident is thrown in jail,” Halvorssen said.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
Call on major regional organizations to denounce Azerbaijan's dictatorship.