Azerbaijan government in crackdown on activists ahead of presidential elections


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The Independent Online

The government has intensified a crackdown on activists and journalists to stifle criticism of the long-term leader Ilham Aliyev before presidential elections in October, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

Authorities in the oil-rich South Caucasus nation have arrested dozens on trumped-up charges, dispersed anti-government rallies and adopted laws curbing freedom of speech and assembly in the past 18 months, the organisation said in a report.

The authorities could not be reached for comment, but Baku has repeatedly denied abusing human rights in the past.

“Prosecuting people who criticise the authorities and report on issues of public interest is a cynical and transparent attempt to stifle government critics,” Giorgi Gogia, a researcher for Human Rights Watch said.

The nation, ruled by Mr Aliyev since he succeeded his father in 2003, has been courted by Western powers because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe. Mr Aliyev, 51, is almost certain to win the October election.