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Despite being a member of such bodies as the Human Rights Council, several independent bodies, such as the Human Rights Watch, have deemed human rights in Azerbaijan to be subpar at best. Democratic and personal freedoms have been diminished by the government, wary of revolutions in Central Asia spreading to home turf.

The 2008 Freedom in the World report, which tries to measure the degree of democracy and political freedom in the world, labeled Azerbaijan a Not Free country, with low scores in both Political Rights and Civil Liberties sections.


Electoral rights

Although Azerbaijan is nominally a representative democracy, recent elections there have widely been contested as fraudulent and 'seriously flawed.' Azerbaijani media coverage of the election is considered to be overwhelmingly biased in favor of the administration. Also, former President, Heidar Aliyev, is known to have filled the Central and Local electoral commissions with government supporters prior to various key elections since 2003 [1]. Azerbaijani non-governmental bodies were also banned from monitoring the vote. Irregular incidents such as voting chiefs running off with the ballots, ballot-stuffing, multiple voting, and vote-tampering were recorded by international monitors.

Freedom of assembly and expression of political beliefs

Up until June 2005, the Azerbaijani people did not enjoy freedom of assembly. The blanket ban on opposition gatherings was lifted after national pressure, but events leading up to parliamentary elections later that year proved this to be merely a nominal change for a very short time. The authorities denied opposition supporters the right to demonstrate or hold rallies in or near any city centres. Those attending opposition rallies that had not been sanctioned by the government were beaten and arrested in mass. Police were known to detain opposition activists, in an attempt to 'convince' them into giving up their political work. Youth movement members and opposition members were detained for conspiring to overthrow the government, a charge that has not been substantiated. After the elections not a single opposition rally was allowed.

State-authorized violence

In Azerbaijan, torture, police abuse, and excessive use of force are rife. Defendants are often subjected to severe beating to try to coerce a confession, although electric shock, threats of rape, and threats against members of the defendant's family are also used as torture. Torture is less prevalent in post-detention prison facilities, although former inmates have alleged that security forces beat hundreds of prisoners by forcing them to run through a gauntlet, whereby they were beaten with batons. The government have taken no action against torture, or against officials who partake in torture; indeed, Vilyat Eviazov, the head of the Organized Crime Unit, was named Deputy Interior Minister in 2005.

Political Prisoners

International pressure has been exerted on Azerbaijan to release its number of political prisoners. Since joining the Council of Europe, the Azerbaijani government have released one hundred political prisoners, but many remain in custody, and opposition supporters continue to be detained without proof of wrongdoing. A number of Talish national minority activists including Novruzali Mammadov, Atakhan Abilov, Alikram Hummatov are recognized as political prisoners or refugees by the international organizations.[1][2]

Freedom of the Media

Supreme Court of Azerbaijan.

The authorities use a range of measures to restrict freedom of the media within the country. Opposition and independent media outlets have their access to print-houses and distribution networks limited, or can find themselves facing defamation charges and crippling fines. Most Azerbaijanis receive their information from mainstream television, which is unswervingly pro-government. During the last few years, three journalists were killed and several prosecuted in trials described as unfair by international human rights organizations.

Reporters Without Borders has called on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to firmly condemn Azerbaijan for tolerating escalating press freedom violations.[3] Nearly 100 journalists were victims of physical assault in 2003. More than 50 were attacked covering violent clashes between the security forces and demonstrators after the 2003 presidential elections. Two opposition journalists were attacked in July 2004. Aydin Gouliev, editor of the opposition daily Baki Khaber, was abducted and beaten by men that accused him of "not serving his country and Islam" and warned him to stop all journalistic work on July 17, 2004.[3] Eynulla Fatullayev, editor-in-chief of Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realniy Azerbaijan newspapers, was beaten on the head in a Baku street on July 26, 2004. He has written many articles highly critical of the government and was accused by the Azerbaijani government of claiming that the Khojaly massacre was committed by Azerbaijanis and not Armenians, while Fatullayev himself denies that he made such claims.[4]

Using the metro might be very dangerous for opposition journalists. Security forces in civilian clothes follow them and try to push them in front of entering metro trains. The video footage of the security cameras is never made available for court in such cases. Latest attempt was against Seymur Haziyev on October 25 according to IRFS.

Freedom of religion

The Constitution provides that persons of all faiths may choose and practice their religion without restriction; however, there are some abuses and restrictions. Some religious groups report delays in and denials of registration. There continue to be some limitations upon the ability of groups to import religious literature. Most religious groups meet without government interference; however, local authorities monitor religious services, and officials at times harass and detain members of "nontraditional" religious groups. There are some reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice. There is popular prejudice against Muslims who convert to other faiths and hostility toward groups that proselytize, particularly evangelical Christian and other missionary groups.

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