Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Azerbaijan

Profile

Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
9,800,000
Capital: 
Baku
GDP/capita: 
$5,496
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Overview: 

In Azerbaijan’s authoritarian government, power is heavily concentrated in the hands of President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the country since 2003. Corruption is rampant, and following years of persecution, formal political opposition is weak. The Aliyev regime has overseen an extensive crackdown on civil liberties in recent years, leaving little room for independent expression or activism in the country. Journalists, civil society leaders, human rights advocates, and religious leaders who are deemed threatening to the government routinely face harassment, detention, and violence.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In a September referendum, voters approved a package of constitutional changes that were pushed through without meaningful parliamentary debate or public consultation; among other changes, the legislation widely expanded presidential powers.
  • Opposition groups were prevented from campaigning against the changes, and security forces detained dozens of civil society leaders in an effort to disperse protests or discourage them from taking place.
  • In January, security forces violently repressed protests against price hikes and growing unemployment.
  • The government pardoned and released several high-profile political prisoners, but its repressive campaign against civil society and independent media continued apace, with a number of arrests and incidents of violence and harassment.
Executive Summary: 

The Aliyev regime continued to aggressively consolidate power at the expense of citizens’ political rights and civil liberties. In a highly flawed September referendum, voters approved a set of 29 constitutional amendments that were proposed by Aliyev and rushed to the vote without meaningful parliamentary or public consultation. Authorities prevented opposition groups from campaigning against the proposals, and security forces rounded up dozens of activists during and in advance of protests against the changes. The vote itself was marred by electoral violations, including ballot stuffing. Among other things, the amendments extended the presidential term from five years to seven, empowered the president to dissolve the legislature and call elections, abolished the minimum age for presidential candidates, and lowered the age for parliamentary candidates to 18. Overall, the legislation further concentrated power within the president’s office while eroding the country’s already weak checks on executive authority. The age requirement changes led to speculation that Aliyev is grooming his son for succession.

While the release of several high-profile political prisoners during the year was welcomed by both the domestic and international communities, prospects of genuine change for civil liberties were dimmed by the government’s unceasing repression of human rights defenders, opposition members, civil society activists, journalists, and religious communities. The amendments approved in September also imposed new limitations on civil rights, including freedom of assembly and land ownership.

Plunged into economic crisis following the drop in global oil prices in 2014, the government has made efforts to improve budgetary planning and economic policy during, but faced public discontent in 2016 due to rising prices and unemployment. In January, these concerns sparked protests across the country. Security forces swiftly dispersed them using tear gas and water cannons and detained dozens of participants.

Explanatory Note: 

The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is examined in a separate report.

Aggregate Score: 
14
Freedom Rating: 
6.5
Political Rights: 
7
Civil Liberties: 
6

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Azerbaijan

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