Associate director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
In countries where freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not respected, criticism of the government can lead to criminal charges and imprisonment. Azerbaijan is one of those countries, where dissenting voices are silenced by authorities using politically motivated charges. Recently, Giorgi Gogia, an associate director at Human Rights Watch, expressed his concerns for one of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners, Gubad Ibadoghlu, who has faced multiple bogus criminal charges. In this blog, we will examine the case of Gubad Ibadoghlu and the wider practice of silencing government critics in Azerbaijan.
Gubad Ibadoghlu, an economic expert, political analyst, and opposition activist from Azerbaijan, has been facing bogus criminal charges since 2019. His arrest came after a critical analysis of the Azerbaijani economy that highlighted corruption and mismanagement by the government. Since his initial arrest, Ibadoghlu has been jailed and released multiple times, each time facing new charges, further extending his detention. The charges against him have ranged from incitement to violence, money laundering, and even spying for foreign agencies. However, there has been no evidence to support these accusations.
Ibadoghlu’s case is not unique; other government critics, including journalists, human rights activists, and opposition politicians, have been subject to similar treatment in Azerbaijan. In recent years, the government has intensified its repression of critical voices, including using pressure tactics to force activists to self-censor. This has led to a shrinking space for civil society and has put a significant strain on independent media, which have either been shut down or forced to operate under strict government control.
The Azerbaijani government’s practice of silencing dissenting voices has gathered international attention, with several human rights organizations and democratic governments calling on Azerbaijan to respect its international obligations to human rights. However, the Azerbaijani government has been defiant, claiming that those people arrested and detained are criminals, not political prisoners.
One way to raise awareness of the issue is to support human rights organizations that try to document and raise awareness of abuses in Azerbaijan. It is essential to pressure governments and international organizations to raise the issue with Azerbaijani counterparts and make concrete demands for improvements in the human rights situation in the country. Another way is to help spread the word by discussing the issue with friends and colleagues and sharing news and updates on social media, which can help amplify the voices of those facing arrest and imprisonment for their beliefs.
The case of Gubad Ibadoghlu is a striking example of the repression faced by opposition figures and government critics in Azerbaijan. Sadly, his story is not unique, and many others face similar challenges. Advocating for better human rights in Azerbaijan is critical, perhaps more so now than ever before. While the Azerbaijani government has shown little willingness to address these issues, raising awareness and organizing campaigns can help apply pressure and push for change. It is time to stand in solidarity with the country’s political prisoners and demand justice and freedom for them.