Azerbaijan currently holds a dubious distinction of holding almost double the number of political prisoners than those held in Belarus and Russia combined. The Azerbaijani government’s use of criminal prosecution as a tool for political retaliation against its critics is a well-documented problem.
Aman Sagidullaev fled Uzbekistan with his family in the summer of 2011. He had called for a referendum on independence for his native Karakalpakstan region in the country’s northwest. Apparently in response, Uzbek prosecutors charged him with embezzlement. After traveling to Russia, then to Kazakhstan, Sagidullaev has spent the last two years trying to obtain asylum in Kyrgyzstan.
Kazakhstan is scrambling to keep its diplomatic options open amid rapidly rising Western-Russian tension. Not wanting to get dragged down by Western sanctions imposed on Russia, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration is ramping up an international charm offensive.
Authorities in Azerbaijan took steps December 5 to muzzle Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist who is the country’s most vocal government critic. A Baku court granted a motion to hold Ismayilova in jail pending a criminal trial, while her Facebook page mysteriously went dark.
When Azerbaijan served as chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, it scoffed at the spirit and purpose of the organization and moved vigorously to squash all forms of free speech at home. Now that Baku no longer holds the top spot, civil society activists are worrying about what Azerbaijani authorities will do next.