Is online activism an alternative to street action? 1

The President of Azerbaijan has signed into law amendments that will steeply hike the penalties for unsanctioned public gatherings. Marion Kipiani talks to experts and activists as they ponder online activism as a possible alternative to street action.

The amendments to the law “On freedom of assembly”, to the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences were passed by the parliament on 2 November and will come into force at the beginning of 2013. The legal changes mean that the fines for participating in an unsanctioned rally will be increased from the current seven to thirteen manat (approximately the equivalent in Euros) to a hefty 500 to 1,000 manat. (The average monthly salary in Azerbaijan currently stands at just under 400 manat, as reports). Those who will be charged with organising such unsanctioned gatherings may face fines of up to 3,000 manat – and up to twice that amount, if they hold a formal position such as the leadership of a political party. More…

Azerbaijani and Armenian political parties discover their “Asian side”.

Whilst Armenia and Azerbaijan emphatically insist that they are European countries representatives of some of their leading political parties last week participated in the 7th General Assembly of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) which was hosted in Baku by Azerbaijan’s ruling party YAP and was attended by a number of other Azerbaijani parties, both pro government and opposition, as well as by the leader of Armenia’s Heritage Party, and Presidential candidate, Raffi Hovhanessian.

The participation of Armenian and Azerbaijani political parties in this event has caused some amused bewilderment since both countries, as well as their political elites, have for the last two decades since they attained their independence, insisted very emphatically that they were European countries, and both countries are now full members of the Council of Europe.

Unlike Turkey and Russia, whose geography puts them part in Europe and part in Asia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have traditionally been categorised in either one or the other. Whilst some still put them as Asian countries, since their admission to the Council of Europe in the late 1990s they are generally defined as European. Political observers question if ICAPP was worth paying the prize of opening once more the discussion on this issue. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have in recent years been criticised in European political frameworks for their human rights record, and their democratic credentials questioned. More…

Baku demonstrators demand the dissolution of parliament.

A protestor being restrained by police in Baku on 17 November 2012
(picture by Mehman Huseynov).

Dozens of demonstrators were arrested in Baku over the weekend after participating in an unsanctioned demonstration calling for the dissolution of Parliament.

As was the case with previous protests organised by youth movements and opposition groups in Azerbaijan, the Baku City Council did not issue a permit for the demonstration which took place on Saturday 17, November in Fountain Square, citing potential disruptions to traffic in the city centre.

According to the Facebook event set-up to organise the protest, over 1,700 people confirmed their attendance. In the end only around a hundred turned up. More…

Internet Governance discussed in Baku as activists consider impact on forthcoming Presidential elections.

The opening session of the Internet Governance Forum in Baku. (Photo: Mehman Huseynov).

The VII Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Baku from 6-9 November 2012. In the run-up to the event, local and international human rights watchdog organisations have voiced concerns about freedom of expression online in Azerbaijan. Marion Kipiani followed the event and spoke to some of the participants.

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is an annual meeting convened by the United Nations Secretary-General, bringing together governments, civil society and other stakeholders to discuss public policy issues related to the internet. This year’s IGF, hosted in Baku from 6 to 9 November 2012, focused on the role of Internet governance in promoting development. In addressing greetings to the participants of the IGF, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said his government was paying special attention to the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The President in his statement said Azerbaijan was respecting the freedom of the Internet, as shown by a number of Internet-based radio and TV stations, electronic newspapers and magazines, and the availability of social networks. The statement further noted that thousands of bloggers in Azerbaijan were freely engaging in their activity online. Local and international human rights watchdog organisations begged to differ. More…

Four views on current politics in Azerbaijan ahead of presidential elections in October 2013

The Maidan Tower in Baku. A symbol of Azerbaijani history.

With the democratic transition of power progressing in Georgia, the focus of the regional and international community is increasingly shifting to the upcoming elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Notably, Azerbaijan has scheduled presidential elections for October 2013, which are regarded by many observers as crucial for the democratic development of the country.

Marion Kipiani was recently in Baku and she spoke with four experts about their perceptions of the political system, the upcoming elections, and the possible impacts of the change of government in Georgia on the electoral environment in Azerbaijan. The political and electoral systems in Azerbaijan are still under development, this was one of the few statements that the four experts unanimously agreed on.  Farhad Mammedov, Razi Nurullayev, Anar Mammadli and Arastun Orujlu tell her why. More…

Ahead of Presidential elections in 2013 Azerbaijani government proposes to toughen legislation on public protests 1

Young protesters being detained by police following
an unsanctioned protest in the centre of Baku on 20
October. The government is hoping that stiffer penalties
will make potential protestors think twice. (Picture courtesy of Youth Media Centre, Baku).

Following the “unauthorized actions” held in Baku on 20 October, lawmakers in Azerbaijan are contemplating tougher penalties which they claim will encourage a greater sense of responsibility by activists and protect human rights.

The parliamentary committees for “Legal Policy and State building”, and “Human Rights” held a joint session on Tuesday, 23 October, to discuss amending the legislation surrounding freedom of assembly in the country. Members of Parliament are concerned that these so-called “unauthorised actions” have been on the rise in recent years in Azerbaijan, and have a negative impact on Azerbaijan’s international image. This trend, the lawmakers argue, is likely a result of the fact that the penalties just are not a big enough deterrent for protesters. More…