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Washington event discussed Azeri crackdown: Analysts call for sanctions on rights violators

Leading Eurasia analystsfrom U.S.-based watchdogs on Wednesday discussed Azerbaijani crackdown on media and civil society activists, calling for western sanctions against rights violators among the Azeri government, TURAN’s Washington correspondent reports.

"It is time for the U.S. and the west to respond with significant actionsto make it clear to the Azerbaijani government that the path they are on is not being ignored…”said Jeff Goldstein, Senior Policy Analyst at Open Society Institute (OSI), at the event called "Crackdown: Independent Media and Civil Society in Azerbaijan and Turkey,” organized by the Freedom House, National Endowment for Democracy and OSI.

Azerbaijan, saidGoldstein, has been a very repressive country for quite sometime.The situation has particularly deteriorated over the last two years.Today the country has "probably more political prisoners than Russia and Belarus combined,” he said.

"Belarus has long been known as the last dictatorship in Europe. I think it’s rapidly loosing at least part of that title to Azerbaijan,” he added.

Goldstein drew the attention to the mechanisms that the Azeri government has used to shut down civil society and free media calling them "something rather new.”Thus, Baku didn’t follow the Russian equivalent of the "Foreign agents law,” instead it created a system where all NGOs needed to register grants with the government agency.

As Azeris "successfully” continue cracking down against western institutions and civil society, their practice likely is being transferred to other regional authoritarian regimes such as Tajikistan, which has recently drafted a law that "pretty much copy of Azerbaijani model,” he said: "What we see in the authoritarian international is that there is a great deal of learning each-other’s examples.”

Speaking about the reasons behind Baku’s behavior, he said, some analysts believe that there was a long-standing feeling among the Azeri leadership that it has been treated unfairly on the human rights issue. This goes back to the 2008 election in Armenia when police broke up protests on the main squire in Yerevan and several people were killed. Aliyev government somehow felt that the western reaction to the violations next-door "was biased in terms of the criticism on Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record.”

Another reason, he highlighted, is that the Azeri governmentwas "scared” from the uprisings in the neighborhood, such as protests on Maidan, and Istanbul’s Gezi Park. "They see much going onand they do really appear to believe that there is a program of creating color revolutions and they may be the next,” he said.

Besides all of the above, the opportunity for Azeri crackdown has been "provided by Russia invading Crimea,” he added."The [Aliyev] government feels that right now the west is very concerned about things elsewhere in the neighborhood; they are very concerned about not riding countries into Russian hands and that they can take these steps essentially without any real fear of response from the west.”

As for the international reaction to the crackdown, he said, Azeri leadership "clearly cares” about its international reputation, given Baku’s caviar diplomacy in the western capitals.

"This is the time when more needs to be done... Both U.S. and European Union should think about sanctions against human rights abusers,” he added.

Speaking at the event,ArzuGeybullayeva, Istanbul-based blogger and freelance journalist,highlighted individual cases of threatening, harassing, and jailing civil society advocates and journalists in Azerbaijan. "I have friends in jail that haven’t seen their children because of the regime,” she said.

Other speakers, Freedom House’s Nate Schenkkanand Richard Kraemer from National Endowment for Democracy, drew attention to Turkey where freedom of expression has also been deteriorating during the past years, as the government, according to the analysts, sued people for defamation while it continuescontrolling their internetdata, as well as banking and phones.



Washington, D.C.



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