These are heady days for the powers-that-be in the oil-rich Republic of Azerbaijan. The former Soviet satrap on the Caspian Sea recently was elected as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Better yet, its capital Baku will be hosting 2012’s Eurovision contest. And this week, our colleagues at CNN International have their “Eye on Azerbaijan” with a number of glowing news segments recounting with admiration the bold ambitions of both a government and society fueled by a newfound prosperity.
But, as I blogged in March, something is rotten in the Azeri state. An Amnesty International report released yesterday titled The Spring that Never Blossomed: Freedoms Suppressed in Azerbaijan documents how the government of President Ilham Aliyev heavy-handedly quashed Arab Spring-style dissent earlier this year; arbitrarily arrests and unfairly tries dissidents; and intimidates and harasses journalists. A Wikileaks-released U.S. diplomatic cable claims the Aliyev clan runs the country “in a manner similar to the feudalism found in Europe during the Middle Ages.” Cronyism and corruption are among the protesters biggest complaints, yet Aliyev’s governance is rarely seen in the same light as other post-Soviet tinpot dictators like Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov. There are legitimate reasons for that, but Amnesty worries the political situation in the country may only atrophy and worsen.
Its press release reads:
The cumulative effect of these practices, together with the long-standing impunity of the authorities for such actions, has instilled a climate of fear and self-censorship in Azerbaijani society, which is stalling, indeed reversing, the country’s transition to a stable democracy,” said Natalia Nozadze [Amnesty’s Azerbaijan researcher].
“In oil-rich Azerbaijan, 20 years of independence, economic prosperity and relative stability have failed to translate into greater fundamental freedoms for its citizens while the consolidation of authoritarian rule over the last decade has been largely ignored by the outside world.”
“The Azerbaijan authorities must reverse this trend and their international partners must make it clear that they will not do deals with those who carry out human rights violations.”