Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 2.38 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.14 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
1 100 Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic. See the methodology.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Electoral Process rating improved from 1.00 to 1.25 due to incremental improvements in the participation of opposition candidates in local elections. 
  • Civil Society rating improved from 1.00 to 1.25 due to increased activism surrounding women’s rights issues, including unsanctioned protests against domestic violence. 
  • As a result, Azerbaijan’s Democracy Score improved from 1.07 to 1.14.

header2 Executive Summary

By Robert Denis

Authoritarianism remained firmly entrenched in Azerbaijan in 2019. A series of reforms were highly touted by the government, and generated guarded optimism among the opposition, but so far these have done nothing to address the country’s fundamental institutional problems. Nevertheless, some small but noteworthy gains occurred in the political and civic realms, namely, the increased participation of activists from outside the traditional opposition parties.

Over the course of the year, President Ilham Aliyev decreed a series of administrative changes and shuffled top appointments, which the government portrayed as a reform program. In January, several state agencies were dissolved, others were created, and some authorities and responsibilities were redistributed. In October, several prominent appointees who had held their positions since the 1990s were removed from office, such as the former head of the presidential administration Ramiz Mehdiyev, former prime minister Novruz Mammadov, and senior presidential adviser Ali Hasanov. These high-profile moves were accompanied by a reshuffling of less significant executive appointments. There were also changes to the functioning of the judiciary: increasing the country’s number of judges, dividing administrative-economic courts into two separate organs, and requiring the audio recording of all hearings, among other modifications. Experts characterized these administrative reforms as technical in nature, possibly leading to increased efficiency in the operations of the government. None of these changes, however, address Azerbaijan’s fundamental problems—the dominance of the executive branch, rampant corruption, repressive conditions inhibiting civil society, and the lack of any government accountability to the population.

Despite the release of a large number of political prisoners in 2019, the government has continued to arrest and prosecute opposition activists and independent journalists. The year began with a major groundswell of support for imprisoned journalist and blogger Mehman Huseynov. When new charges were unexpectedly brought against Huseynov just two months before his scheduled release, the biggest demonstration Baku had seen in years was held on January 19 and the government quickly backed down, dropping the charges and releasing the journalist as scheduled on March 2. Two weeks later, President Aliyev issued a traditional, but unusually large, prisoner pardon that freed over 400 people, including 51 political prisoners of various stripes—opposition politicians, youth activists, Shia religious activists, journalists, and a former minister. Despite cautious hope within civil society and the international community that the pardon might be a sign of a shift in policy, many political prisoners have yet to be released and new arrests have followed. The annual pardons are a reminder that the fate of political prisoners is at the discretion of the executive as exemplified by youth activist Bayram Mammadov, arrested on March 30, two weeks after he was released under Aliyev’s pardon, and sentenced to another 30 days in detention on trumped-up charges. Despite the mass pardon, the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan actually grew in 2019 according to human rights activists.

Azerbaijan is currently negotiating a new partnership agreement with the European Union (EU). Talks began in 2017, and diplomats from both the Azerbaijani and EU sides expressed optimism during 2019 that a deal would soon be concluded. Experts have suggested that the administrative reforms and the prisoner pardon may have been calculated to strengthen Azerbaijan’s position at the negotiating table by demonstrating improvements in the country’s business environment and human rights situation. In a speech in November, however, President Aliyev explicitly rejected the idea of European integration, painting the EU as a region in economic crisis with anti-Islamic attitudes.

The year did witness some incremental successes as Azerbaijan’s civic sector mobilized over specific issues despite the government’s repressive tactics. While the rally in support of Mehman Huseynov in January was allowed by authorities, the government employed drastic measures to prevent or limit other demonstrations throughout 2019. Two demonstrations in support of women’s rights in March and October were broken up, sometimes violently, by police, street sweepers, and onlookers suspected of working for the police. In October, when the opposition coalition National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) held a demonstration in the center of Baku, police blocked several metro entrances, internet service was cut throughout much of the city, and excessive force was used to detain at least 60 people.

Municipal elections were held on December 23, with independent observers reporting widespread violations. Several major opposition parties decided not to participate, due partly to the lack of any real authority in the municipal councils and partly to the repressive electoral environment excluding any possibility of free and fair elections. The opposition complained of obstruction in its attempts to organize, and the leader of the Republican Alternative Party (ReAL), former political prisoner Ilgar Mammadov, lost an appeal to wipe his record of the criminal conviction that bars him from running for public office. Notably however, as the election approached, youth activists organized a campaign to register themselves as candidates to encourage public participation in the electoral process. Many of them were allowed to register, and one, Vafa Naghi, was actually elected, becoming the first feminist activist to serve in municipal government in Azerbaijan.

In 2020, the February snap parliamentary elections, the ongoing generational shift within the government, and the public’s increasing political engagement may result in a certain amount of volatility. Additionally, the long-awaited partnership agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU may finally be signed even as President Aliyev’s rhetoric becomes more anti-European.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 1.001 7.007
  • Azerbaijan is ruled by an authoritarian regime whose power is highly concentrated in the hands of President Ilham Aliyev and his family. Aliyev has ruled since 2003 and is the son of former president Heydar Aliyev (in office 1993–2003), whose cult of personality dominates every sphere of public life as a substitute for political ideology.1 Since 2017, the president’s wife, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, has served as First Vice President of Azerbaijan.2 In 2019, in the world of Azerbaijani clan politics, the First Lady’s family, the Pashayev clan, has been steadily increasing its formidable power and influence to the detriment of President Aliyev’s Nakhchivan clan.3
  • In January 2019, the president signed an order making a number of changes to the structure of the executive branch, dissolving certain agencies, creating new ones, and reorganizing others.4 Although the reforms were touted as making the government more efficient and cost-effective, there seemed to be little planning prior to the transitions. For instance, the administrative changes were not incorporated into the 2019 state budget5 and the president’s cabinet was shuffled without explanation. In June, a new presidential order brought back the Ministry of the Defense Industry, which had been dissolved in the January order.6
  • On October 8, the president dismissed Prime Minister Novruz Mammadov and replaced him with Ali Asadov, a longtime insider close to the First Lady’s family,7 who was presented as a technocrat with a background in economics.8 On October 23, Aliyev dismissed 80-year-old Ramiz Mehdiyev as head of the presidential administration, a position Mehdiyev had held for 24 years,9 during which time he had been perhaps the most powerful man in Azerbaijan after the president as well as the driving force behind the country’s anti-Western policies.10 On November 29, longtime presidential adviser Ali Hasanov was dismissed. Hasanov had been responsible for state media policy and was seen as a prominent enemy of independent journalism.11
  • The New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), led by the president, currently holds a majority of 69 out of 125 seats in Azerbaijan’s parliament, known as the Milli Majlis, or National Assembly.12 There is no serious policy debate in the parliament, which simply rubber stamps legislation formulated in the presidential administration. The BBC has reported that, during a summer session, the Milli Majlis once passed 35 bills in a single hour,13 and the nomination of the new prime minister, Ali Asadov, was approved unanimously without debate.14
  • On October 19, the opposition coalition National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) held an unauthorized rally in the center of the capital Baku.15 Police in riot gear used force to break up the protest, detaining 60 people, 42 of whom were released the same day with a warning.16 Police had already detained several prominent opposition figures before the event, and during the rally blocked nearby metro entrances and cut off internet service throughout most of the city.17 Prominent opposition politician Tofig Yagublu, who was detained at the rally, claims to have been tortured by the police and was sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention.18
  • Azerbaijan is currently negotiating a new partnership agreement with the European Union (EU). Talks have been ongoing since 2017 to replace the current agreement, which was signed in 1999.19 The issues under consideration include energy, trade, security, and EU aid for Azerbaijan’s economic diversification and development.20 It has been reported that one of the negotiation sticking points has been Baku’s reluctance to open its markets to European companies.21 Experts have suggested that these negotiations at least partly explain the government’s desire throughout the year to be seen as reforming the state apparatus.22 In November, however, President Aliyev made a speech in which he rejected the idea of EU integration in terms stronger and more explicit than ever before. Specifically, he cited the 2008 economic crisis, as well as European attitudes toward Islam and gender issues, as the grounds for his opposition to EU integration. In Aliyev’s own words: “Where should we integrate into the [economic] crisis? Where do we integrate into the society of those who say ‘Stop Islam?’ Where to integrate into the society of those who do not see the difference between men and women? . . . We will by no means integrate there.”23
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 1.251 7.007
  • Elections in Azerbaijan are not free, fair, or competitive. In fact, they are routinely falsified as demonstrated by numerous election observer reports and video evidence. In its report on Azerbaijan’s most recent presidential election on April 11, 2018, the OSCE observation mission stated that the election “took place within a restrictive political environment and under a legal framework that curtails fundamental rights and freedoms.”1 Journalists filmed instances of ballot stuffing2 and other serious violations, such as forced participation in campaign events3 and the physical removal of a journalist from a polling station.4
  • In the lead-up to the 2019 municipal elections, the most prominent opposition parties decided not to campaign, citing the lack of free and fair elections and the absence of any real authority in municipalities.5 In the media, public apathy towards the domestic elections was compared unfavorably with the active interest Azerbaijanis showed for the elections in neighboring Turkey where there was genuine competition and real power at stake.6 By the beginning of December, a movement had begun among opposition youth activists to reinvigorate the electoral process, and a significant number were allowed to register as independent candidates.7
  • Municipal elections were held December 23, and the Central Election Commission (CEC) reported a voter turnout of 34 percent (1,627,064 people). The CEC, the Commissioner for Human Rights, and progovernment electoral observers announced that the elections had been free, transparent, and up to international standards.8 The CEC confirmed only two reports of violations at polling stations in the Aghdash region9 and annulled those stations’ results.10 Independent observers, however, reported a restrictive electoral environment and serious violations, including ballot stuffing at 45 percent of observed polling stations and individuals voting multiple times at 43 percent,11 numerous instances of which were caught on film.12 A large number of people were reportedly registered as candidates without their knowledge, and other candidates were disqualified when independent media reported that they were close relatives of serving municipal officials, which is prohibited under Azerbaijan’s election laws.13
  • In August, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court partially upheld an appeal by former political prisoner and leader of the Republican Alternative Party (ReAL), Ilgar Mammadov, ending his probation but refusing to wipe the criminal conviction from his record, which disqualifies him from running for public office.14 The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) has stated that the Azerbaijani government is obliged to remove all such restrictions on Mammadov and others whose convictions have been ruled politically motivated by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).15
  • In August, a court partially upheld a suit brought against independent journalist Sevinj Vagifgizi. In 2018, Vagifgizi published a video report on the snap presidential election showing the deputy director of School #251 in Baku, Elmira Alandarova, at two different polling stations seemingly directing a group of “carousel” voters.16 The court ruled that the video title, accusing Alandarova of carousel voting, was false, and Vagifgizi said that she would appeal the decision.17 Although the independent media and international observers reported ballot stuffing and carousel operations on election day, no one responsible for these irregularities has been held accountable.18
  • On December 5, the president dissolved the parliament and scheduled snap elections for February 9, 2020, nine months earlier than expected. Azerbaijan’s opposition parties were divided over their strategic response, with Musavat, ReAL, and Umid announcing they would participate, while the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and other members of the NCDF coalition (except Musavat) announced a boycott.19 As in the December municipal elections, numerous youth activists launched parliamentary campaigns, if not to win then at least to “change the political mood” in Azerbaijan and “introduce a new generation of public figures.”20
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 1.251 7.007
  • Civil society operates in an extremely restricted environment in Azerbaijan, particularly since 2013 when the country’s new registration laws effectively criminalized the work of many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), especially those receiving support from international donors.1 Nevertheless, Azerbaijan saw increased levels of activism regarding women’s rights in 2019 even in the face of violent repression by the authorities.
  • On March 16, the president issued a pardon2 releasing over 400 people from prison, including 51 recognized political prisoners.3 Azerbaijani civil society and Western politicians and activists welcomed the pardon but pointed out that it “[did] little to change the overall landscape of repression in Azerbaijan,”4 and that the problem of political prisoners would remain as long as the country lacks an independent judiciary and public oversight of security agencies.5 On March 30, youth activist Bayram Mammadov was once again arrested, only two weeks after being pardoned, and sentenced to another 30 days in detention on trumped-up charges of allegedly disobeying a police officer.6
  • In September, an Azerbaijani NGO called The Working Group (WG) released its latest “Unified List of Political Prisoners” with 135 names,7 a slight increase compared to its 2018 list despite the mass pardon in March.8 The names on the list included 6 journalists and 7 activists, as well as 53 persons who have been imprisoned for alleged involvement in the attempted assassination of the mayor of Ganja in July 2018 and the subsequent protest in which two police officers were killed. Authorities characterized the Ganja incidents as part of a plot by Islamic extremists to stage a coup,9 but the mass arrests have been widely condemned as politically motivated.10 Authorities have released some of the Ganja prisoners in the face of regular protests by relatives,11 but new groups of detainees continue to receive convictions.12
  • Women’s rights issues featured prominently in social media discussions and political activism in 2019. The Initiative of Feminist Women in Azerbaijan attempted to organize a march to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, but authorities refused to grant permission and the march was attacked by onlookers who may have included plainclothes police.13 In September, the deputy chair of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Fuad Gahramanli, was publicly accused of domestic violence against his wife by his daughter, Seljan Yaghmur, forcing him to resign and sparking heated debates online.14 At the beginning of October, a series of brutal attacks on women, several of them fatal, led to a large-scale social media campaign with the hashtag #QadınaŞiddətəYox (#NoViolenceAgainstWomen).15 On October 20, dozens of activists in Baku held an unsanctioned demonstration against domestic violence, which was disrupted by police violence and ended in several detentions.16
  • On ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Map, Azerbaijan is currently ranked last out of 49 European countries for LGBT+ rights,17 and the 2019 Annual Review shows that LGBT+ people continue to face police raids, instances of horrific violence, and animosity from large sections of the public, while also noting a handful of rare public expressions of support.18 In October, it was reported that the police had offered money to vulnerable LGBT+ sex workers to hold a pro-police demonstration expressing satisfaction with the current state of LGBT+ rights in Azerbaijan. The rally was never held, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs denied the allegation.19
  • On October 28, prominent human rights activist Ogtay Gulaliyev was hit by a car as he walked home from a press conference.20 The presser had been held by the Committee Against Repression and Torture, of which Gulaliyev was the coordinator, to announce a new anti-torture campaign.21 Gulaliyev, in a coma, was transported to Turkey for treatment paid for by the state-controlled Heydar Aliyev Foundation.22 Civil society and international organizations have demanded a transparent investigation into the incident.23
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 1.001 7.007
  • Most media outlets in Azerbaijan are carefully controlled by the government, consistently toeing the official line when reporting stories of any political significance. Meanwhile, independent journalists who challenge Azerbaijan’s government are regularly targeted for reprisals, including harassment, blackmail, and imprisonment.
  • On March 2, independent journalist and political prisoner Mehman Huseynov was released from prison.1 Sentenced to two years’ incarceration on trumped-up charges in March 2017,2 new charges were brought against him on December 26, 2018, less than three months before his scheduled release.3 On January 19, 2019, approximately 3,000 people joined one of Baku’s largest demonstrations in years in support of the journalist.4 Huseynov and several of his supporters launched a hunger strike until the latest charges were finally dropped on January 22, paving the way for his eventual release as originally scheduled in March.5 In the municipal elections in December, Huseynov ran and lost, accusing authorities of falsifying the results.6 On December 27, Huseynov was allegedly beaten by police after protesting the arrest of the rapper Parviz Guluzadeh (aka Paster) in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.7
  • Although several journalists were released in the president’s March pardon, others remained imprisoned. Investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli—who was kidnapped in neighboring Georgia, secretly brought across the border, and ultimately sentenced to six years on trumped-up charges in January 2018—was not released in 2019 despite strong pressure from NGOs and the international community.8 Seymur Hazi, former host of the online news discussion program Azərbaycan Saatı (The Azerbaijan Hour), was forced to serve his full five-year sentence before his release in August.9 Hazi was soon arrested again and sentenced to 10 days’ detention just prior to the opposition rally of October 19.10
  • In February, the editor of the news website, Mustafa Hajibeyli, received a suspended prison sentence of five and a half years for his coverage of the attempted assassination of the mayor of Ganja in 2018, which was said to contain “forgery” and “appeals against the state.”11 On March 18, editor Anar Mammadov received the same sentence on similar charges.12 On March 29, editor Nuraddin Ismayilov received the same sentence for his coverage of the countrywide blackout in July 2018 that occurred after an accident at an electric plant in Mingachavir. Human rights advocates say the three convictions appeared to be nearly exact copies.13 The sentences are suspended, which means the three journalists will have to serve their prison terms if they are convicted of any other crime in the next two years, during which time they are not allowed to leave the country.14
  • On April 7, the progovernment news website Real TV published a private voicemail between exiled independent journalists Sevinj Osmanqizi and Chingiz Sultansoy. In the recording, Osmanqizi spoke about the possibility of receiving international grants to start a new independent media outlet, which was characterized by Real TV host Mirshahin Aghayev as a form of treason.15 On April 21, Osmanqizi received a threat that intimate photos of her would be published unless she ceased her activities as a journalist.16 Azerbaijani authorities have a history of targeting journalists, particularly women, with this sort of digital surveillance, having attempted to blackmail journalists such as Khadija Ismayilova and Fatima Movlamli with intimate photos and videos.17
  • Polad Aslanov, editor of the news websites and, was arrested in June and charged with treason for allegedly working for a foreign intelligence agency, which could result in a life sentence.18 His arrest occurred only two months after his discharge from the military into which he had been forcibly conscripted in April 2018 despite health issues. On October 5, the imprisoned journalist began a hunger strike.19
  • On December 12, four days before Ukrainian president Zelensky’s state visit to Baku, Azerbaijani video blogger Elvin Isayev was deported from Ukraine for violating immigration laws. Known for profanity-laced videos critical of the ruling family of Azerbaijan, and sometimes aimed at the opposition as well,20 Isayev had been living in Russia for years when his Russian citizenship was revoked in August. His planned deportation to Azerbaijan was halted when the ECtHR applied rule 39, blocking extradition, and in September Isayev moved to Ukraine. After his repatriation from Ukraine, he was arrested by authorities immediately upon arrival in Azerbaijan. Isayev is an ethnic Talysh,21 a minority population that the government tends to view with suspicion since the attempt by separatists to create a Talysh-Mughan Autonomous Republic in 1993.22
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 1.502 7.007
  • In Azerbaijan, power is highly centralized in the presidential administration. Regional and local government bodies have few authorities, are underfunded, and are entirely dependent on the national executive.
  • Local administration is carried out by executive authorities, the heads of which are appointed by and accountable only to the president. While there are no regional or local legislatures, there are local elected municipal councils—but they are underfunded and their responsibilities, which are often doubled by national agencies, are restricted to such issues as road management, cemetery maintenance, and parks and environmental preservation.1
  • In March, the opposition Republican Alternative Party (ReAL) gathered more than the 40,000 signatures required to submit a bill to the Milli Majlis proposing the creation of a single citywide municipality and an elected mayoral position in the capital Baku.2 Currently, Baku is administered by the Baku City Executive Authority (BCEA) whose head is appointed by the president. There is ostensibly some oversight over the BCEA exercised by a board of appeals, which is meant to review complaints from the public, but its members are appointed by the very head of the BCEA whose power they are called upon to check. There are 53 separate municipal councils in Baku but no citywide management body to coordinate their work.3 This city governance structure, unaccountable to residents and inefficient, is in conflict with the European Charter of Local Self-Government4 to which Azerbaijan has been a signatory since 2001.5 The National Assembly confirmed that it would consider ReAL’s proposal, but no action has been taken yet.6
  • In the municipal elections held on December 23, approximately 42,000 candidates from 13 parties registered to participate, competing for over 15,000 positions in the various municipal bodies across Azerbaijan.7 There was very little participation from the traditional opposition parties, but a number of youth activists mounted a campaign to reinvigorate the electoral process and successfully registered as candidates.8 Despite widespread reported violations, youth activist Vafa Naghi was elected in the village of Kholgaragashli, becoming the first feminist activist ever to serve in an Azerbaijani municipality.9
  • There is a massive gap in development between the capital Baku and the rest of the country. GDP per capita in Baku is 11.5 times higher than in the regions. In 48 of Azerbaijan’s 60 regions, there are fewer than 20 doctors per 10,000 people, while in Baku the figure is 89. In 18 regions, fewer than 20 percent of residents are served by sewage systems, and there are only 10 regions where the figure rises above 40 percent.10
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 1.001 7.007
  • Azerbaijan’s judicial system is highly corrupt, manipulated to punish dissent and opposition, and wholly dependent on the executive branch. While judges of the first instance are appointed directly by the president, appellate judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the parliament (however, none of the president’s nominees have ever been rejected).1 In 2017, Azerbaijani courts issued a total of 11,356 convictions and a mere 87 acquittals, a fraction of a percent of the total cases adjudicated.2
  • In April, the president signed an order instituting several reforms of the judiciary, including raising the number of judges by 200 (at the time, there were 569 judges in the country), assigning cases to courts automatically and randomly, and requiring the audio recording of all hearings.3 In July, the Milli Majlis amended the Law on Courts and Judges to split administrative-economic courts into independent administrative and commercial courts, and exempted judges’ salaries from income taxes in the tax code.4 Experts have generally welcomed the reforms, which are in line with Azerbaijan’s obligations as participants in the CoE’s Partnership for Good Governance program, yet point out that they are aimed at resolving narrow technical issues and contribute nothing to solving the primary problem of the judicial branch—its total dependence on the executive.5
  • In February, a court in Ganja upheld the decision of the Azerbaijani Bar Association to strip lawyer Yalchin Imanov of the right to practice law.6 The bar association originally suspended Imanov’s legal practice shortly after he had spoken to the media about allegations of torture made by his client, Nardaran prisoner Abbas Huseynov.7 Since the 2017 amendment to the Law on Representation, which restricted the right to practice law to bar association members exclusively, the government-controlled organization has suspended the legal practices of a number of human rights lawyers.8
  • Lawyers are routinely barred from meeting with their clients at detention facilities.9 In May, the head of the Political Prisoner Defense Center, Ogtay Gulaliyev, was summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office and threatened with criminal charges for publishing information on Facebook about alleged torture in prisons.10 In June, the lawyer Orkhan Kangarli was allegedly beaten and illegally detained by police when he protested their refusal to permit him entry to a police station in Baku to meet with a client.11
  • The Azerbaijani government regularly fails to implement ECtHR decisions, or implements them with huge delays regardless of fines.12 In March, the ECtHR ruled that N!DA youth activist Ilkin Rustamzadeh, in prison since 2013, had been arrested and imprisoned “without reasonable suspicion” and ordered the government to pay him €20,000 in damages and €2,500 for legal costs.13 In September, the ECtHR ordered Azerbaijan to pay €128,500 to 11 activists who were arrested for organizing an opposition rally on April 2, 2011.14
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 1.001 7.007
  • Corruption continues to pervade not only the Azerbaijani government—which struggles with graft, bribery, and nepotism endemic at all levels—but also within society at large.
  • In March 2019, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) revealed that President Aliyev’s 22-year-old son, Heydar Aliyev, owns a home worth approximately $35 million in Meyendorff Gardens, the most expensive residential development in Russia, located just outside Moscow.1 This is only a small part of the ruling family’s wealth, which also includes opulent real estate in London,2 Dubai,3 and Karlovy Vary.4
  • Corruption is not the purview of the ruling family alone. In January, for example, Arif Alishanov was dismissed as head of the state television AzTV, a position he had held since 2006, but not before he had acquired approximately $12.4 million in agricultural land in the Shamakhi region on an official monthly salary of about $1,060 (at current rates).5 In September, parliamentarian Rafael Jabrayilov was forced to resign in a widely reported scandal that he had used his MP certificate as collateral for a $300,000 personal loan.6
  • In June, the CoE’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) published its second compliance report on Azerbaijan evaluating the steps taken by the government to implement GRECO’s anticorruption recommendations.7 Although the report stated that 11 of the 21 recommendations had been implemented satisfactorily, and another 4 had been partially implemented, other experts pointed out that this implementation was often purely formal. In accordance with GRECO’s recommendations, draft legislation is published online prior to parliamentary votes, but it is regularly amended at the last minute by the presidential administration.8 Recommendations regarding conflicts of interest were partially implemented according to the report, but the directors of large companies—including the head of the state oil and gas company, SOCAR9 —remain as members of parliament, thus creating major opportunities for lobbying and apparent conflicts of interest.10 Azerbaijani activists have criticized GRECO and the EU’s anticorruption efforts for being ineffectual and failing to involve civil society, instead working primarily with state actors.11
  • International actors have begun to crack down on Azerbaijani corruption abroad, especially following the publication of OCCRP’s “Azerbaijani Laundromat” investigation.12 In March, German parliamentarian Karin Strenz of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) was fined €20,000 and banned from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for life for receiving up to $30,000 from Azerbaijani lobbyists.13 In 2015, Strenz had voted against a CoE resolution demanding that Azerbaijan release its political prisoners.
  • In the UK, British authorities used an unexplained wealth order (UWO)—part of the 2017 Criminal Finances Act (aka “the McMafia law”)—for the very first time against Zamira Hajiyeva, wife of the disgraced former chairman of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, Jahangir Hajiyev. The UWO requires Hajiyeva to explain the source of her wealth, including £16 million spent at Harrods between 2006 and 2016, or her property could be confiscated.14 Jahangir Hajiyev was convicted of fraud in Baku in 2016 and is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence.15 The British case against his wife is not a threat to any of the current ruling elite in Azerbaijan.
  • According to Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index,16 Azerbaijan is among the 30 most corrupt countries in the world, and new facts continue to emerge detailing the ubiquitous problem of corruption throughout Azerbaijani institutions.17

Author: Robert Denis is an editor, translator, and contributor at Baku Research Institute.


The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

On Azerbaijan

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    9 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    37 100 not free