Azerbaijan: Human Rights in the Spotlight during COP29 Pre-Talks in Bonn

Bonn, Germany—Between today, June 3, and June 13, representatives from around the globe will gather in Bonn, Germany to prepare for the Twenty-Ninth Conference of the Parties (COP29) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) later this year in November in Azerbaijan.

Media should note that Azerbaijan has a long and well-documented history of restricting internationally protected civil and political rights, and is currently in the midst of a widespread crackdown on journalists and civil society. The government has moved to crush dissent and silence independent voices while at the same time using large international events, such as COP29, to portray itself as a prosperous, rights-respecting democracy; an image which belies a corrosive truth.

This record will be spotlighted by civil society groups from around the globe during the pre-COP29 talks in Bonn and during COP29 itself. Representatives from Crude Accountability, Freedom Now, and World Movement for Democracy are available for interviews.

Karl Horberg, Program Director for Freedom Now, stated: “The hosting of COP29 presents the Azerbaijani government with an opportunity to demonstrate to the world its openness and adherence to obligations under international law – concepts to which it claims to aspire and abide. Instead, President Ilham Aliyev seems determined to use all available resources to close down civil society in the country; harass journalists, activists, and opposition leaders; and imprison those that call attention to this betrayal of the government’s responsibilities to its people.”

Ryota Jonen, Director for World Movement for Democracy, stated: “The next five months are a crucial time for human rights and the rule of law in Azerbaijan. The international community should use this period to demand the release of all political prisoners in the country and the lifting of restrictions on civil society. The governments meeting in Bonn must be the voice of Anar Mammadli, Ulvi Hasanli, Gubad Ibadoghlu, and all of those wrongfully imprisoned by the Aliyev regime.”

Kate Watters, Co-founder and Executive Director for Crude Accountability, stated: “COP29 is meant to bring together civil society and governments to discuss one of the world’s most pressing issues – climate change. Yet for the third year in a row the conference is taking place in an authoritarian country, under the shadow of mass arrests and rapidly closing civic space. The current environment in Azerbaijan is fundamentally incompatible with a free and open dialogue that is required to address climate goals.”

More information:

Beginning in December 2022, Azerbaijan initiated a crackdown on civil society that has resulted in the arrest of at least 30 individuals under specious and politically motivated charges. In the past 18 months, the campaign of repression and arrests has picked up steam as Azerbaijani law enforcement detained several labor activists and targeted independent media outlets. As of March 2024, local activists have documented at least 288 instances of politically motivated imprisonment.

Politically motivated imprisonment is not a new tactic in Azerbaijan. However, this most recent round of arrests saw troubling new trends, particularly the use of reprisals against family members. The government has banned family members of imprisoned individuals from leaving the country and in some cases even frozen the assets of family members.

For years Azerbaijan has largely escaped international accountability for its actions due to the need for its plentiful energy resources. Azerbaijan’s economy is dominated by oil and gas, which account for 89% of its nearly $40 billion in annual export revenue. Several pipelines that supply the region start in Azerbaijan. The most consequential of these is the Southern Gas Corridor, the European Union’s twelve-year, $45 billion project to build a network of pipelines from Azerbaijan to Italy to reduce European dependence on Russian natural gas.  Azerbaijan exports approximately 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe annually through the corridor, amounting to 10 percent of gas imports to the EU.

Victims of Recent Crackdown In the past 18 months, Azerbaijan’s campaign of repression and arrests has picked up steam, detaining several labor activists and targeting independent media outlets. As of March 2024, local activists have documented at least 288 instances of politically motivated imprisonment.

The following is a representative sample of those imprisoned during the recent crackdown:

  • Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a democracy activist and former parliamentary candidate, was arrested in December 2022 and charged with hooliganism in connection with a civil case against him. He was subsequently charged with illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion.
  • Gubad Ibadoghlu, a well-known academic and corruption expert, was arrested in July 2023 and charged with distribution of counterfeit money and religious extremist materials. The charges appear related to his criticism of the Azerbaijani government’s economic policies and corruption. He is currently under house arrest, but is not receiving adequate medical care and faces 17 years in prison if convicted.
  • Elvin Mustafayev, a labor activist, was arrested in August 2023 and charged with drug possession. His arrest came after he participated in a protest of gig economy workers. He was convicted in January 2024 and is serving a three year sentence.
  • Ulvi Hasanli, a journalist, was arrested in November 2023 and charged with smuggling foreign currency. Hasanli has been the director of Abzas Media since 2016 where he investigated government corruption and nepotism. At least four of Hasanli’s colleagues were arrested shortly after he was imprisoned.
  • Anar Mammadli, a human rights defender, was arrested in April 2024 and charged with smuggling foreign currency. Mammadli runs an organization that monitors elections in Azerbaijan and recently created an organization to advocate for civil and political rights in the lead up to COP29. He was previously arrested in 2013 and served more than two years in prison for his activism.

Activists are calling on Azerbaijan to:

  • Release all political prisoners and end politically motivated arrests
  • Lift restrictions on civil society by amending laws related to NGO registration and media in accordance with international standards
  • Ensure local civil society can freely participate in COP29

The international community should:

  • Reassess its energy relationship with Azerbaijan
  • Call on Azerbaijan to release all political prisoners and comply with international obligations connected to its participation in international institutions, including the United Nations, in the lead up to COP29
  • Call for strong protections for local civil society participating in COP29

For More Information:
Kate Watters, Co-founder and Executive Director, Crude Accountability –
Karl Horberg, Program Director, Freedom Now –