NHC statement concerning the upcoming election in Azerbaijan
On November 1, 2015, Azerbaijan will go to the polls to elect a new parliament. FIDH, OMCT and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee wishes to extend our deepest concern regarding the conditions in which the polls are being organised, which cannot meet international standards for free and fair elections.
Most of the election violations observed in previous elections have recently recurred with the same intensity, with a highly restricted registration process and campaign environment during the run-up to legislative elections.
Together with FIDH and OMCT, NHC has sent a letter to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly observing the elections
in Azerbaijan: https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/joint-open-letter-to-members-of-pace-election-observation-mission
Threats against opposition candidates
The space for expressing dissent for any individual, party or group has diminished even more compared to previous elections. According to recent reports by local observers, cases of intimidation of local population trying to prevent signature collection for opposition candidates, and restrictions were also imposed on opposition parties collecting signatures. The situation in the country with respect to political freedoms, freedom of expression and media, and freedom of assembly does not provide conditions for holding free and democratic elections, and the violations which occurred in the first stage of the elections – in the process of nomination and registration of candidates – cast doubt on legitimacy of the process. For example, the Central Election Commission registered the candidacy of only 25 out of 60 potential contenders from the major opposition party Musavat, after declaring invalid signatures from 40 of the contenders, even signatures from the contenders’ own relatives.
The public trust in the electoral process is low. The opposition Republican Alternative movement (REAL) announced that it will not recognize the outcomes of the elections, as it is “certain that as a result the election results will not represent people's votes.” The Musavat party and NIDA civic movement announced their decision to pull out of the race and withdrew their candidates, citing repressive environment and total lack of faith in the conduct of free and fair elections. The National Council for Democratic Forces, which is an alliance of civil society organizations and opposition parties such as the Popular Front Party, have decided to boycott the election as the environment lacked of competition, open public debate and genuine campaign.
Many of the President Aliyev’s most outspoken critics and opposition politicians remain behind bars. The Deputy Chairman of Musavat, Tofig Yagublu, is serving a five year prison sentence on clearly politically motivated charges. Seymur Hazi, a journalist and a senior member of the Popular Front opposition party, was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment on politically-motivated charges of hooliganism. The leader of the opposition Republican Alternative movement (REAL), Ilgar Mammadov, who was also the Director of the Council of Europe’s Baku School of Political Studies,has been convicted to seven years in prison. On May 22, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held Azerbaijan responsible for violating the European Convention of Human Rights in arresting and sentencing Mr. Mammadov. The decision of the ECtHR has remained unimplemented by the authorities despite of the 4 follow up resolutions by the Committee of Ministers, urging his immediate and unconditional release.
Freedom of expression
Azerbaijan faces significant challenges with respect to the exercise of freedom of expression.. The biased media and smearing campaign against the critics continues to heavily distort the climate. Those who express critical views of the government are being systematically harassed and prosecuted. Pluralistic views and impartial information is limited, journalists are being judicially harassed, detained and threatened. The case of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, sentenced to 7 years in prison on bogus charges, clearly illustrates the atmosphere of intimidation and threats that independent journalists face. At least seven other well-known journalists are serving prison sentences. Independent media outlets have been forced to close down or leave the country. In the context of the election campaign, such challenges result in uneven media access where Azerbaijani opposition candidates are significantly disadvantaged in electoral campaigning.
Imprisonment of independent human rights defenders
Over the past years, opposition candidates, civil society activists, and human rights defenders have remained subject to continuous harassment and arbitrary detentions in Azerbaijan.
The Director of EMDS, Mr. Anar Mammadli, was arrested and condemned to 5.5 years' imprisonment, for his election monitoring and other human rights activities. The leaders of independent civil society organisations such as Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunusov, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov are currently serving harsh prison sentences. Many other political prisoners are detained, and their number is hard to assess as people who were compiling the list of political prisoners and calling the Azerbaijani government to respect its international obligations – such as Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev and Leyla Yunus - languish themselves behind bars.
In this context, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe announced on October 7 that it withdrew the Council’s participation in the Azerbaijan Joint Working Group on Human Rights, arguing that the “overall situation of human rights defenders in the country has deteriorated dramatically”, as "an increasing number of human right defenders has recently been imprisoned, and that the Council of Europe has received worrying reports concerning unacceptable detention conditions".
According to the Electoral Code of Azerbaijan, Chairpersons of all electoral commissions are nominees of the parliamentary
majority, which is currently composed of pro-government political parties, thereby undermining the impartiality of the whole
Reactions from other international institutions
In June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and in September, the European Parliament issued strong resolutions on Azerbaijan, listing a long list of human rights and legislative concerns in the country.
On September 11, 2015, the OSCE/ODIHR took the decision for the first time it would not send an election observation mission, on the grounds that restrictions imposed by the Azerbaijani authorities would not allow the Organisation to fulfill its mandate. In a needs assessment report, OSCE/ODIHR had previously stressed that the 2013 Presidential elections were undermined by limitations on freedoms of expression, assembly and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates. The OSCE/ODIHR had addressed several recommendations to the authorities on how electoral processes may be improved, which have remained unaddressed, in particular regarding the composition of election commissions and the non-transparency of candidate registration procedures.
On September 10, 2015, the European Parliament decided not to send election observers to Azerbaijan, highlighting that “the background for holding free and fair elections does not exist and limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association in the country make it impossible to create a level playing field for candidates and to organise a genuinely competitive vote”.
Independent domestic observers will be more isolated than they have ever been. A number of prominent international media were denied accreditation to cover the parliamentary elections.
Accordingly, we believe that the restrictive political environment in Azerbaijan, notably the unprecedented and ongoing crackdown on civil society, render the upcoming election inconsistent with international standards of free and fair elections. These elections will be no difference from the previous polls which have been marred by fraud and serious irregularities in the electoral process and ineffective examination of electoral complaints. Both of the latest parliamentary elections in 2010 and those of 2005 have led to a large number of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights, which found Azerbaijan in breach of the right to free elections.
The 1 November elections will be of highly questionable legitimacy, regardless of observed violations of the Election Day procedures.
OMCT Secretary General
NHC Secretary General