BBC: Azerbaijani authoritarian government glorifies the murderer Ramil Safarov and persecutes writer Aylisli
Over the last two years dozens of journalists, opposition activists and bloggers have been arrested in Azerbaijan, accused of possessing drugs or weapons or charged with hooliganism, the BBC correspondent Damien McGuinness reports.
“But according to human rights groups, the charges are trumped up - an authoritarian government's attempt to stamp out any Arab Spring-style uprising, they say. And now, faced with presidential elections in October, the authorities are accused of clamping down even more heavily,” the article reads.
As the author notes participants in anti-government demonstrations in the city centre face heavy fines worth more than the yearly earning of many Azeris. And tough new libel laws are criminalising criticism online.
“In Baku's Fountain Square, I meet a young man, Araz, who tells me how police violently broke up a peaceful protest he took part in here. Araz says police beat him and then sprayed tear gas into his eyes while he was being held by another officer,” the author says.
As the young man says, “Somebody has to do something at some point. If you want big changes, at least one generation has to sacrifice itself. And I think that we are that generation,” he says.
“President Ilham Aliyev, whose family has ruled for decades, looks set to win October's elections. But now there are signs that dissatisfaction is spreading beyond the traditionally small opposition circles of young, digitally minded youth activists,” the article reads.
According to the author recent protests have also involved middle-aged mothers, outraged by the unexplained deaths and abuse of their sons conscripted into the Azeri army. “And there are suspicions that the government is trying to counter this growing dissent, and bolster support, by appealing to nationalist sentiment,” McGuinness writes.
"I think the president's family is using the nationalist card to distract people from the real problems, such as corruption," says investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova. "They need an external enemy to keep people under control."
And in Azerbaijan, that enemy is Armenia. “Earlier this year, just as the country was seeing an unusually high number of anti-government protests, a scandal erupted over an Azeri book which portrayed Armenians sympathetically. Fortuitous timing to distract from the unrest, whispered government critics. The novel had actually been published months before,” the article notes.
It also reads that the author of the book, the renowned Azeri writer Akram Aylisli, was stripped of his literary awards and pension by President Aliyev. His books were publicly burned and protesters gathered outside his home chanting death threats - demonstrations which the authorities did not disperse. This once-revered writer suddenly found himself castigated as a national villain.
Azeri soldier Ramil Safarov, on the other hand, was turned into the nation's hero. He chopped the head off a sleeping Armenian with an axe in 2004 in Hungary, the BBC writes. Last year he returned to Azerbaijan, where he was supposed to serve out the rest of a life sentence. Only he did not. He was given a hero's welcome, was pardoned by the president and promoted to the rank of major.
"Of course he's a hero," one of Ramil Safarov's neighbours told the BBC correspondent. The other one said Armenians are not human. "I would have done the same."
"I think the leaders just love this conflict, they embrace it," the journalist Khadija Ismayilova believes. "The right thing to do right now would be to embrace Armenian citizens in Azerbaijan. But that would end the conflict. And the government doesn't want that."
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