Washington DC—Crude Accountability is appalled at the arrest of Mehman Aliyev, director of Azerbaijan’s last independent news agency Turan News, and calls on western governments and multilateral institutions to suspend their support of President Aliyev’s regime.
Mehman Aliyev was arrested on August 24th on trumped up charges of tax evasion, abuse of power and illegal activities. He is now facing three months in a pre-trial detention center. Given the timing, the orders for his arrest have no doubt come from the highest levels of government.
Weeks before his arrest, Mehman was approached by high-level officials on different occasions, who offered him financial support in exchange for Turan’s loyalty. Turan continued operating independently and publicly criticized the government’s campaign providing 255 apartments to journalists to mark National Press Day on July 22nd. Following this, officials launched a tax-investigation into Turan on August 7th, before freezing the agency’s accounts on August 18th. Turan has been forced to suspend its operations starting this September.
This level of corruption and impunity in Azerbaijan is unprecedented. Supported by International Financial Institutions and Western governments, the Aliyev regime is openly and without hindrance destroying the last remnants of civil society and free press in the country. Rich in oil and natural gas, Azerbaijan is the starting place for the Southern Gas Corridor, a series of mega pipelines being developed to bring Azerbaijan’s natural gas to Western Europe, in order to lessen dependence on Russian energy. Virtually every large international financial institution (IFIs), including the Work Bank, EIB, EBRD, ADB and AIIB have either expressed or committed support to the Southern Gas Corridor. The exploration of Shah Deniz gas field, off the coast of Azerbaijan, is financially backed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank. With western political and financial backing in exchange for gas, President Aliyev continues to intensify the crackdown on independent civil society.
“It is shameful that even after EITI suspended Azerbaijan in March due to the inability of civil society to independently monitor the government, the IFIs continue to financially support the Aliyev regime, aware of the grave human rights situation in the country,” said Sonia Zilberman, Manager for Energy and Environment at Crude Accountability. “Mehman’s arrest and the shutdown of Turan is the latest testament to the fact that nothing will get better until human rights are valued more than energy.”
There are over 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, at least 19 of which journalists, writers, bloggers and free speech activists.
Crude Accountability calls upon the International Financial Institutions to suspend their support of the Aliyev regime until Mehman Aliyev and all other political prisoners are released in Azerbaijan.
South Caspian Energy and Environment Manager