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Arzu Geybulla

Research Fellow

Arzu Geybulla is an Azerbaijani columnist and journalist, with a special focus in human rights and press freedom in Azerbaijan. Arzu has written for Al Jazeera, Open Democracy, Eurasianet, Foreign Policy Democracy Lab, and Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. She is the recipient of the 2014 Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship with the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She was featured on BBC 100 Women Changemakers in 2014. She was Central Asia Azerbaijan Program Fellow at George Washington University in 2016. Arzu currently lives in Istanbul from where she continues covering Azerbaijan.

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4610 [post_author] => 11 [post_date] => 2020-04-04 09:30:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-04-04 09:30:14 [post_content] => Beaten students, poor hospital facilities, changes in legislation, arrests of political foes - this is how Azerbaijan has been dealing with COVID19 pandemic that has reached the country’s borders in February. As of April 2, there were over 400 reported cases in the country and five deaths. A government-backed website on virus updates (which at the time of writing of this story was undergoing “updates”), has been set up. Authorities in Baku have also set up a a response fund collecting donations to fight the pandemic with contributions from the President, the first lady, and other large and small businesses, as well as government institutions and individual donations. The most recent government-imposed restriction requires its citizens to inform law enforcement before leaving their apartment through an appWorrying trendsAmong the measures introduced and steps taken to address the fight against the global pandemic within the country, some seem certainly far more drastic than the others. After the February 9 Parliamentary Election, where much of the vote and the results were contested by the local civil society and international observers such as the OSCE/ODIHR, authorities in Azerbaijan went ahead with approving the results of the election. In a usual approach to any criticism voiced against the government, the Azerbaijani leadership shrugged it all off (except for canceling the results in four of the precincts), ignoring the protests of the defeated independent parliamentary candidates. Yet again, any hope for a peaceful transition of political power or the inclusion of new voices into the domestic political debate (the makeup of the parliament stayed more or less the same) was swept under the carpet. With the “new” parliament came a set of new legal amendments that according to critics may only signal further restrictions on freedom of speech. On March 18, parliament approved amendments to the law on Information, Informatisation, and protection of Information. This piece of legislation sped up the process of blocking of scores of independent and opposition websites in 2017 when broad powers were vested into a single government institution - the Ministry of Transport, Communication, and High Technologies to take down online content. The new round of changes includes additional new clause covering the ‘information-telecommunication network’ and ‘information-telecommunication network users’. There is no definition of what the ‘information-telecommunication network [and its users]’ clause actually means but experts believe this brings social networks under scrutiny and control of the Azerbaijani authorities. The discussions over designing some kind of mechanism that would keep social media users in line have been a topic of the debate among national legislators for years but up until now, no legal measures were introduced. That, however, did not stop authorities from going after social media activists by questioning, detaining, and arresting them over the years. Already, several users have reported, they were questioned by the police. Some have even been charged. A day after fresh legislative amendments were put in place, President Ilham Aliyev delivered the national address ahead of Novruz holidays. While informing the people, that celebrations of the widely observed holiday were canceled due to the on-going pandemic, and the usual spiel about economic growth and the country’s successes, President Aliyev made time to speak of a few other things. “[...]We see open provocations. Where do these provocations come from? From the very fifth column, from the enemies who are among us, the elements calling themselves opposition, the traitors who receive money from abroad. Their main goal is to destroy Azerbaijan. The worse for Azerbaijan, the better for them. Look at their addresses on social networks, they are full of hatred and provocation. They seem to want riots to happen. They want turmoil. They want panic. And then they claim that they care about the Azerbaijani people. They are our enemies, and we must openly state this. It is not known what this disease will lead to. Therefore, during the existence of the disease, the rules of completely new relationships will apply. Let everyone know this. It is possible that a state of emergency may be declared at some point. In this case, the isolation of representatives of the fifth column will become a historical necessity [...] But we cannot allow the anti-Azerbaijani forces, the fifth column, and national traitors to take advantage of this situation to commit various provocations. Let everyone know it.” Shortly afterwards, arrest spree began. On March 22, member of opposition Popular Font Party Anar Malikov was sentenced to ten days administrative detention on the grounds for allegedly violating the rules of the quarantine. The charges failed to specify which rules exactly. On March 24, authorities arrested veteran opposition activist and former political prisoner Tofiq Yaqublu in what appeared to be a fabricated car accident. The politicized nature of the government’s’ actions was also reflected in the early release of 200 inmates on March 26 - there were no political prisoners among them. How arrests of opposition activists or questioning of people about their commentary on social networks reflect the extent of the effectiveness of measures in place to address and fight the coronavirus outbreak inside the country is a question that is being asked by many. Although some government funds have been allocated to fight the pandemic there are still no clear government-backed incentives on how authorities intend to support those who are affected by the outbreak. Unlike Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who recently announced the government plans to aid Canadians who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 with a 2,000USD check for the next four months President Aliyev instead, is asking for donations from the people while the parliament is adding new fines for ‘violating hygiene and quarantine regime’. In any other country, where rights and freedoms are in place, where there is a track record for efficient institutions, economic transparency, and trust to an existing government structure in place, any measures introduced would leave no question marks. But in a country marred by rights violations, rigged elections, corruption, and lack of trust the questions are abundant. Photo Source Official web-page of the President of Azerbaijan [post_title] => A global and deadly virus becomes a tool for political repression in Azerbaijan [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => a-global-and-deadly-virus-becomes-a-tool-for-political-repression-in-azerbaijan [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-04-03 15:59:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-04-03 15:59:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4434 [post_author] => 11 [post_date] => 2020-01-02 15:53:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-02 15:53:26 [post_content] => 2019 was a year not without its highs and lows in the land of fire - Azerbaijan. From a snap decision to dismiss the national parliament, to the release of prominent political prisoners, to the replacing of some high ranking government officials, as well as more arrests and detentions. This year, Azerbaijan made the news for its lack of capacity while hosting the Europa League final and the farce with the loose manhole cover that damaged George Russell’s Williams during the Grand Prix practice in Baku.[1] Not to mention the vehicle carrying the damaged Williams striking a bridge on the way to the pit making it all look even more comical. The corrupt nature of its ruling government and its affiliates haunted officials in Baku in 2019 as well. One key example of this is when the news of the country’s former international bank head Jahangir Hajiyev’s wife was spotted at London’s high end department store Harrods, having spent 16 million pounds.[2] Not all at once of course, but over the last ten years. Meanwhile, her husband, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in October on charges of fraud and money laundering to name a few. To break it all down, here is a closer look at some of these and other developments that shook Azerbaijan’s civil society, government and the country’s image abroad. #FreeMehman2019 began with the #FreeMehman campaign that targeted authorities in Azerbaijan to immediately drop new charges that citizen journalist and activist Mehman Huseynov was facing, just when his previous two year prison term was going to finish. Despite the absence of evidence in court, and an international outcry on the illegality of the sentence, Huseynov was jailed in 2017 on charges of slander and sentenced to two years in prison. In December 2018, new charges were brought against Huseynov accusing him of allegedly “resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to his health and life”.[3] If found guilty, Huseynov was facing an additional seven year prison term. While Huseynov declared he was going on a hunger strike, many prominent civil society activists joined him in solidarity. An unsanctioned rally was organised in support of Huseynov on January 19th, demanding his release. Several human rights watchdog groups, as well as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the authorities to drop the new charges while the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for Huseynov’s release. As a result of mounting pressure, the charges were dropped and Huseynov was released in March 2019 after having served his full two year sentence. So much for emancipationIt was not the way Azerbaijani feminist activists would have wanted to celebrate the country’s first ever women’s march.[4] Instead of celebrating the achievements of Azerbaijani women, police chose to celebrate the day with slaps and kicks. But not from the police per se. A collection of older women, many who were later identified as fruit and flower sellers, charged into the crowd of protestors to shout at and harass them. There were slaps and shoves for both the marchers and the journalists covering the event. Police were there, to idly watch and observe. Meanwhile on an international diplomacy stage, negotiations over disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh were back on the agenda. Except that President Ilham Aliyev refused to accept the proposal to include Nagorno-Karabakh officials at the negotiation table ahead of the summit in Vienna.[5][6] He did, however, agree to release over 50 political prisoners during the annual presidential pardons over the Novruz celebrations in March. The good news was quickly followed with some bad news - the editor of the ‘’ website, Anar Mammadov was handed a suspended sentence of five and half years with a two year probation period.[7] Mammadov was found guilty of making public calls against the state, abuse of professional duties and forgery, all of which Mammadov and his lawyer refuted in court to no avail. Then a massive fire at one of the shopping malls in Baku burned the place to the ground. It was one of eight large fires in 2019 that damaged businesses in the capital.[8] These fires raised one of the most pressing issues in Azerbaijan - the presence of a shadow economy and its consequences, not only on economic transparency but the ability to engage in any kind of healthy business in the country. Many business owners who suffered great costs during the fires complained of the absence of property insurance. This, however, is directly linked to the commercial agreements made between the property owners and business owners. In Azerbaijan, often, these agreements are not made. Partly due to the fact that often shops or businesses are owned by government employees. There is also a 14 per cent tax imposed on business owners which according to independent economists is too high given economic conditions in Azerbaijan.[9] In April, Bayram Mammadov, one of the graffiti prisoners released during the March pardons, was rearrested and sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention on charges of resisting the police.[10] During his hearing, Mammadov said the charges were baseless and that he was innocent and that he had been subject to police violence after his arrest with officers on duty severely beating him. Two of the men who beat Mammadov sat in the courtroom during the hearing and although Mammadov pointed them out, the two men were let go while the judge ruled to keep the decision of the administrative sentence. Nothing surprising there - in a country that lacks independent judiciary, the chances of accessing a fair trial are virtually non-existent. But the chances of getting a fair trial if you are George Russell who was racing in Baku during the Grand Prix increase substantially. While Mammadov was beaten, rearrested on false charges and sent away to detention, Baku was getting ready to host yet another round of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. But sloppy preparations led to a rather embarrassing accident for the organisers. As set out above, ahead of the weekend’s race George Russell’s Williams struck a manhole cover during the practice sessions. The incident made the news, and even briefly turned into a meme. Immediately after the accident, Arif Rahimov, the promoter of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and the executive director of Baku City Circuit said the damage caused will be covered as per an insurance agreement.[11] While the costs were not mentioned, it is worth mentioning that Rahimov, who happens to be the son of Azerbaijani Youth and Sports Minister Azad Rahimov, was in charge of picking the suitable bidder in the tender to become the official organiser of the race.[12] But it just happened that Rahimov junior’s company received the right to host the competition without any tender which is a violation of Azerbaijani laws. For the likes of Mammadov, one lives below the law, but for the likes of Rahimov, one lives above the law and very little can get in their way, including an accident. Another major sporting event hiccup took place just a month later when Baku opened its doors - for the first time in its history – to the Europa League final, hosting Arsenal and Chelsea football clubs. If only this one was as easy to pull off as the European Games, or the Islamic Solidarity Games or even the Grand Prix. There was much criticism of Baku as a host city, even before the game. From expensive airfares, to a lack of hospitality infrastructure, to the capacity issues with Baku’s International terminal and last but not least, the safety concerns for Arsenal player, Armenian national Henrikh Mkhitaryan. At least these were the issues that made the international headlines. There was little mention of the issues Azerbaijani citizens had to face during the games. In addition to main road closures, transportation routes were amended to accommodate football fans traveling from Georgia to Baku.[13] Perhaps Azerbaijan is just one of the many countries in the world, where celebrating one’s heritage and commemorating Independence Day are less important than a football match. A wave of protests In October, two important rallies put a spotlight on Azerbaijan.[14] On October 19th, the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), an umbrella group of Azerbaijani opposition groups, organised an unsanctioned rally that was violently dispersed by local police. Demonstrators called for the release of all remaining political prisoners, guarantees for free and fair elections, and an end to economic injustice.[15] Among the many who were rounded up and arrested was Ali Karimli, leader of an opposition party - Popular Front. Karimli was severely beaten and then let go. Police refuted claims Karimli was beaten during detention in a statement, concluding Karimli injured himself while taking a fall. A statement released by the prosecutor office claimed Karimli sustained the injuries during a scuffle with police officers as he resisted arrest and managed to beat two police officers in the meantime. But arrests began already days ahead of the scheduled rally. Former political prisoner and journalist Seymur Hezi was one of many arrested ahead of the rally. In the run-up to the demonstration, Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova said police also blocked three subway stations in an apparent attempt to thwart protesters from reaching the main rally site.[16] Meanwhile, activists reported disruptions in internet access across central Baku. The following day, a group of women activists took to the streets calling to end all forms of violence against women.[17] The march was sparked by yet another victim of domestic violence, Leyle Mammadova who was stabbed by her husband in public. Phantom reforms After 16 years in power, surrounded by more or less the same old guard as his father, President Ilham Aliyev decided to shuffle things around. Shuffle is the key word here, because all the changes that have taken place among government officials over the recent months indicate no real reform but rather an illusion of it. In October, Aliyev replaced the second most powerful man in the country, the chief of staff Ramiz Mehdiyev. Then the Prime Minister Novruz Mammadov was replaced by a slightly younger technocrat Ali Asadov. Meanwhile, a man of all traits, Mikayil Jabbarov took on his third ministerial posting, this time as the Minister of Economy after having served as Minister of Education and later as Minister in charge of taxes. Jokes about Jabbarov collecting different ministerial titles were abundant among Azerbaijani activists. Aliyev also reshuffled his Cabinet of Ministers and the Presidential Apparatus. In December, the Azerbaijani National Parliament was dissolved following the ruling party initiative and early elections are scheduled for February 9th 2020. Some have praised these changes, but in absence of real legal, judicial, and social reforms, none of these new appointments give hope.[18] Among them, is Rauf Mirkadirov, a veteran Azerbaijani journalist who said, “Reforms are a new ideology, a new management system, and not new people. With a good system, even a bad manager cannot ruin everything [...]. Without fundamental reforms affecting all spheres, we cannot create a good system of government.”[19] The recent municipal election held on December 23rd, attest to just how far the ruling elite of Baku - even with newly appointed officials and the talk about reforms – are willing to go to protect their position. Reports of ballot stuffing, multiple voting by a single individual at different polling stations, and intimidation of journalists were abundant.[20] However the election of a few young faces, such as former journalist Vafa Nagi and civil society activist Rufat Aliyev gives some hope. Theirs was a real fight, something that the government in power has not done in decades and most likely forgotten what it means. 
Photo by, under Creative Commons.[1] Paul Doyle, Why did Uefa hand Azerbaijan hosting rights for the Europa League final?, The Guardian, May 2019,[2] Dominic Casciani, Zamira Hajiyeva: How the wife of a jailed banker spent £16m in Harrods, BBC, May 2019,[3] Arzu Geybullayeva, Azerbaijanis pressure government to #FreeMehman after blogger endures 12 days on hunger strike, Global Voices, January 2019,[4] Arzu Geybulla, Azerbaijan: Celebrating Women with Slaps and Kicks, Global Voices, March 2019,[5] RFE/RL, Aliyev Rejects Armenian Proposal To Include Karabakh Officials in Peace Talks, March 2019,[6] RFE/RL, Armenia-Azerbaijan Summit Described As ‘Positive,’ ‘Constructive;, March 2019,[7] Council of Europe, Anar Mammadov Gets Suspended Prison Sentence, Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, April 2019,[8] Meydan Tv, Fire in the capital, December 2019,[9] Ibid 8.[10] RFLE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, Pro-Democracy Activist Rearrested In Azerbaijan After Amnesty Release, April 2019,[11] Pete Baumgartner and Hafiz Babali, Family Connections Fuel Controversy Over Azerbaijan Grand Prix, June 2017,[12] Ibid 11.[13] Rashim Shaliyev, Beyond the controversies, Baku’s Europa League final brought little for locals, OC Media, June 2019,[14] Nailia Bagirova, Polina Devitt, Margarita Antidze and Gareth Jones, Azeri police detain scores of protesters, including opposition party leader, Reuters, October 2019,[15] Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan: Peaceful Rallies Dispersed Violently, October 2019,[16] RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, Baku Police Detain Dozens As Opposition Rallies, October 2019,[17] RFE/RL, Photo Galleries: Azerbaijani Capital Rocked By Weekend of Protests, October 2019,[18] Thomas De Waal, is Change Afoot in Azerbaijan?, Carnegie Europe: Judy Dempsey’s Strategic Europe, November 2019,[19] Turan: Informasiya Agentliyi, Experts doubt the effectiveness of so-called “Azerbaijani reforms”, October 2019,[20] RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, Azerbaijanis Vote in Municipal Elections, December 2019, [post_title] => The last year in Azerbaijan: the highs and lows [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-last-year-in-azerbaijan-the-highs-and-lows [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-02 17:35:09 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-02 17:35:09 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 3142 [post_author] => 11 [post_date] => 2019-01-15 13:03:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-15 13:03:17 [post_content] => On January 7th 2019,VirtualRoad, the secure hosting project of the Qurium - Media Foundation published[1] a report documenting fresh attacks against Azerbaijan’s oldest opposition newspaper Azadliq’s website ( The report concluded: “After ten months trying to keep online inside Azerbaijan using our Bifrost service[2] and bypassing multi-million dollars DPI deployments, this is one more sign of to what extent a government is committed to information control”. The DPI deployments also known as Deep Packet inspection have been used in Azerbaijan since March 2017 and is best described as digital eavesdropping that allows information extraction.But Azadliq newspaper wasn’t the only media outlet targeted. On December 27, 2018 another opposition media outlet was informed by Facebook, that its Facebook page had been removed due to “community standards violations”. Just days prior to the removal, the admins of the page reported being attacked by hundreds of trolls and they believe the page was taken down as a result of anonymous reports alleging the page was in such violation. The page remains inaccessible at the time of writing of this piece.Other outlets that have been under attack since November of last year, include the independent news platform Azadliq Radio (unrelated to the newspaper), the Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe, which reported its Facebook page was hacked on November 24th 2018 and in the space of several hours, all of the videos and photos shared on the page up until the day the page was still active, were removed. Since the attack, the radio was able to take back control of its Facebook page. Last January, the Facebook page of the Berlin-based Meydan TV - a news site which covers events in Azerbaijan in three languages - also lost control of its Facebook page.[3] The hacker, deleted all of the posts, videos and photos that were shared on the page since its launch in 2014.For pundits observing this sequence of recent attacks it is nothing surprising or new since Azerbaijan started expressing its interest in purchasing surveillance spyware since as early as December 2011 when the National Security Services (which was officially dissolved in December 2015 and replaced by a new body of National Security Services) reached out to NICE Systems (an official reseller for Hacking Team based in Israel) with an interest to purchase “lawful hacking solutions”. In one of the leaked Hacking Team emails dating to May 2012[4], the following message further clarified the specific interest of the National Security Services. “[...] the customer stressed that they are interested in ISP-based infection (HT NIA), and mobile infections.” The next email exchange[5] between the providers zooms further into the details of the demo, mentioning the “interception of skype through ISP/MIM; interception of Skype on mobile (android, IOs and windows) and PC (IOs and Windows)’’. Among other tools offered by the Remote Control System, the Ministry of National Security was especially interested in the TNI (Tactical Network Injector), a RCS module that monitors a target’s network and injects an agent into selected Web resources and RMI (Remote Mobile Infection) which allows RCS agents to be installed on mobile phones.[6]What RCS technology allows is for data collection on infected devices both online and offline. The data is obtained through records by keystroke loggers and the system also allows hackers to turn on device cameras and microphones without the user’s knowledge.One of the examples of this technology being used to target civic activists was reported by Amnesty International in its 2017 report[7]. According to Amnesty, malware was detected on a computer of Ramin Hacili, the President of the Azerbaijan European Movement in 2015. The malware opens a bundled document that acts as a decoy once run by the victim. “It profiles the victim’s system (collecting IP addresses and system settings. The agent then continually records the keystrokes of the user and captures screenshots, most likely in order to obtain credentials for online platforms such as email and social media”. The same malware was used against human rights lawyer and former political prisoner Rasul Jafar, and others.Other forms of attacks have included artificial internet network congestion, as documented by the VirtualRoad 2016 report,[8] which helped to prevent access to a number of news websites in Azerbaijan (majority of those websites have been officially blocked as of May 2017). In its following report published in 2017, VirtualRoad also showed evidence of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) and other attacks traced to government associated IP address against independent media outlets.With the most recent attacks against Azadliq newspaper, Azadliq radio and other platforms, it is now clear, that in addition to resorting to a media crackdown, political intimidation and other forms of government pressure against media freedom and free speech, the government of Azerbaijan has successfully deployed a range of specialised and technical information control systems such as DDoS attacks, website blocking, hacking of social media accounts and emails of independent civil society activists, content takedown requests from YouTube, mass deployment of civil servants and youth volunteers as trolls, and the use of Deep Packet Inspection tools.[9]Where does this technology come from? According to VirtualRoad’s assessment, the DDoS attacks observed between October 2016 and March 2017 originated from dedicated servers operated by Azerbaijani system administrators, which made VirtualRoad conclude that the attackers were close to the country’s cybersecurity community. VirtualRoad also discovered botnet attacks against and before these websites were blocked after the legal amendments in 2017.Another report released in April 2018 showed evidence of the government of Azerbaijan using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) since March 2017. The report also found out that this specialised security equipment was purchased at a price tag of 3 million USD from an Israeli security company Allot Communications.[10]Having done work with NICE Systems, the government of Azerbaijan was well accustomed to be doing work with Israeli companies. In their newly released report[11], VirtualRoad also looks at how it became evident that Azerbaijan was also using Procera-Sandvine, a networking equipment company specializing in network traffic management and Deep Packet Inspection based in Waterloo, Canada in conjunction with Allot Communications technology. Previously the same company’s devices were used “to deliver nation-state malware in Turkey and indirectly into Syria, and to covertly raise money through affiliate ads and cryptocurrency mining in Egypt”, according to the detailed Citizen Lab report[12].Why any of this should matter? In a country where independent media has been reduced to a handful of operating journalists, with prisons notorious for ‘welcoming’ reporters and civic activists with open arms, and courts renowned for being efficient in sentencing on false charges, deployment of such sophisticated technology that allows the ruling government to have an open back door to citizens’ online and offline history, isn’t just alarming, but a direct violation of basic rights to privacy, anonymity, and safety.In a most recent case of crackdown is Mehman Huseynov. A citizen journalist who had been documenting government corruption, social inequalities and other issues on his popular YouTube channel Sancaq TV. Huseynov was sentenced two years ago on charges of slander. Due to be released in March 2019, Huseynov is now facing new charges for allegedly “resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to his health and life,” which could carry an additional sentence of up to seven years in prison[13]. On December 26th 2018 after hearing about the new charges, Huseynov went on hunger strike.The new accusations prompted mass support on social media, while some activists attempted to rally in support of Huseynov in an unsanctioned protest in Baku which resulted in administrative arrests and fines. An international outcry followed suit with several rights watchdog groups as well as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, calling on the authorities of Azerbaijan to immediately drop the new charges and release Huseynov[14].Huseynov insists he is innocent and so does the community of supporters who believe the new charges carry the sole purpose of keeping Huseynov behind bars while authorities disagree. Since his hunger strike, and the start of the international pressure, government representatives have stressed that Huseynov is in jail for breaking the law and thus serving his time for committed crimes.On January 11th2019 a statement apparently ‘written’ by Huseynov was circulated on social networks. In the statement, addressed at the media, Huseynov writes that “he is well, and that he is recovering from the earlier hunger strike. And that he expects the criminal investigation launched against him to be just”. But very few believed in the authenticity of the statement.His lawyer, Shahla Humbatova who saw Huseynov just a day before, said he never mentioned anything about a statement. “Unlike what is written in the statement, he told me he will continue refusing to eat solid foods and only drink juice and milk. He told me he will do so until March 2, which is the scheduled day of his release”, said Humbatova in an interview with Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe[15]. Mehman’s brother, Emin Huseynov, confirmed the letter was fabricated.In a country where justice rarely prevails, forced and fabricated statements should come as no surprise. The question that remains to be answered however is how much further, can one government go when already it has all the power it can possess.[1]Qurium, Political motivated attacks against,  January 2019,[2] Circumvention Of Internet Blocking,[3] Arzu Geybulla and Hebib Muntezir,  Azerbaijan’s authoritarianism goes digital, Open Democracy, February 2018,[4] Azerbaijan - request for demo, May 2012,[5] RE: Azerbaijan - confirmation of the 14th, May 2012[6] R: Bom Azerbaijan – Urgent, January 2013,[7] Amnesty International, False Friends: How Fake Accounts and Crude Malware Targeted Dissidents in Azerbaijan, March 2017,[8] Qurium, Political motivated attacks against, January 2019,[9] Arzu Geybullayeva, Match made in heaven: Authoritarian states and digital surveillance. Case study from Azerbaijan, , 1 January – 30 June 2018,[10] Qurium, Corruption, Censorship and a Deep Packet Inspection Vendor, April 2018,[11] SUS-759: SANDVINE AND INTERNET BLOCKING IN AZERBAIJAN, Stockholm, 9th January 2019,[12] BAD TRAFFIC, Sandvine’s Packet Logic Devices Used to Deploy Government Spyware in Turkey and Redirect Egyptian Users to Affiliate Ads?, March 9 2018,[13] Azerbaijanis pressure government to #FreeMehman after blogger endures 12 days on hunger strike8 January 2019, Global Voices,[14] Commissioner calls on the authorities of Azerbaijan to drop charges against Mehman Huseynov, January 2019, Council of Europe,[15] Mehman Hüseynovun vəkili: ‘Bu sürpriz oldu’ ( In English: Mehman Huseynov’s lawyer: It’s a surprise),  January 2019, Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe  [post_title] => In Azerbaijan, big brother is watching you everywhere: offline, online, on mobile devices and social media apps  [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => in-azerbaijan-big-brother-is-watching-you-everywhere-offline-online-on-mobile-devices-and-social-media-apps [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 15:02:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 15:02:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw )[3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1541 [post_author] => 11 [post_date] => 2017-03-21 21:30:51 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-21 21:30:51 [post_content] => While the Soviet Union might have collapsed over two decades ago, in many of the post-Soviet states, the system by which majority of these countries are ruled is often reminiscent of the purges carried out under Stalin; where political repression; crackdown on the free press and limited space for freedom of association are still prevalent. Not surprisingly as a result, there have been no signs of meaningful democratic transition process especially when the issues at stake are rights and freedoms. The on-going struggle of opposition groups and independent media outlets in the face of authoritarian regimes in many of these countries has become an all too common trend used often to describe the status of present day struggles in post-Soviet republics such as Belarus, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan or elsewhere. In many of these countries, governments continue to promote their agendas while attacking the regimes’ opponents at home and abroad. Since independenceOut of fifteen post-soviet states, seven have not had free and fair elections since independence.[1] These countries are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, and Tajikistan. In the Freedom House Freedom in the World report 2017, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan made to the list of 11 countries that scored worst for political rights and civil liberties.[2] Only three post-Soviet countries have had all their subsequent elections be free and fair (Estonia, Lithuanian, Latvia) while the rest have a history of some elections being considered free and fair.[3] Since independence, in majority of the former Soviet countries, regimes are more concerned about stability at the expense of crackdown rather than institutional, and long term reforms. Unlike the Baltic states, in countries like Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Belarus and Russia, regimes have systematically gone after its critics, closing or dismantling media, confiscating and banning newspapers, detaining, arresting, harassing and persecuting opponents.[4] In many of these countries, harsh anti- defamation laws are still in place that are often used to stifle criticism and intimidate political opposition. It is an uneven battle ground where the ruling power always prevails while being a critic whether an activist, a rights defender or opposition party member, turns one into an easy target of the ruling regime looking to silence anyone for dissent. In addition, the practice of unfair and undemocratic elections, constitutional changes that benefit the ruling regime always miraculously approved by near majority, monopolies virtually across all sectors of the economy, have created a harsher environment with any kind of checks and balances misplaced in what could be described as despotic rule. In Russia repression, intimidation and political sabotage have led to the near total extinction of liberal opposition while the introduction of lists with ‘extremist’ websites and branding of foreign as well as local NGOs as ‘foreign agents’ have suffocated any sign of hope.[5] In countries like Azerbaijan, referendums have served as means to consolidate further powers. In the 2009 referendum, President Aliyev, scrapped the presidential term limit and in the most recent 2016 referendum Aliyev secured a longer presidential term, extending it from five to seven years. As a result, next presidential elections that were scheduled for 2018 will now take place in 2020. Similarly to Azerbaijan, in Tajikistan, President Emomali Rahmon also scrapped term limits. And in both countries, the age limits to run for parliamentary and presidential elections were lowered, which critics and observers describe as signs that the Presidents’ male offspring may be entering the political stage. But the similarities between two countries go beyond just similar amendments in the referendum. ‘The most active people, those who did not give up and did not break down, have been arrested. The authorities have planted drugs, religious brochures, or bullets on them […]’, wrote Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan in an essay for Central Asia Program at George Washington University[6] which has also been largely the case in Azerbaijan. Most recently, a court in Baku sentenced two youth activists to ten years in jail on trumped up drug possession charges for drawing graffiti on the statue of late President Heydar Aliyev.[7] Hello world, we are rich and famousIn his piece, investigating Azerbaijan’s lobbying ventures in the US, journalist Ilya Lozovsky wrote, ‘Azerbaijan is among the top 10 foreign governments buying influence in Washington […] In addition to traditional diplomacy, it has advanced these messages through aggressive lobbying in the think-tank world, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress’. Organisations such as the Azerbaijan American Alliance (AAA) in Washington DC, set up by the son of Azerbaijan Minister of Transportation, or the European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), set up by the son of the Minister of Emergency Situations in London and Brussels, work with local lobbying firms, host various events and promote Azerbaijan abroad as beacon of democracy and liberalism and a potential source of and home for investment. Commercial advertisements, promo videos, pro-Azerbaijan articles in international media, are often deployed to push for a positive image. A similar strategy appears to be the branding work of Kazakhstan’s authorities too. Erica Marat wrote of her observations in Nation Branding in Central Asia: A New Campaign to Present Ideas about the State and the Nation. ‘Relaxing in a luxury hotel room in Paris, world travellers are exposed to TV commercials for Kazakhstan, a ‘land of democracy’ located in the ‘Heart of Eurasia’ with similar adverts appearing on the pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Economist.[8] ‘Do you know where the magic lives? Our legacy. Our freedom. Our feelings. Our soul. Our future. Welcome to our world. Kazakhstan, the heart of Eurasia!’ showed one such promotional video on YouTube shared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.[9] And yet, Kazakhstan is ranked under ‘Authoritarian’ countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2016, occupying 139th place (out of 167), ranking it just below Rwanda and China but before Zimbabwe and just a few seats ahead of Azerbaijan, which is ranked 148th.[10] And yet, low rankings by international watchdogs seem to bother authoritarian leaderships little. Outside of Washington circles, Aliyev and his lackeys have made their way into the structures of European institutions undermining the very core of human rights standards. ‘They [Azerbaijan] have done so in close cooperation with Russia’ states a most recent publication by the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a Berlin based think tank, known for its critical report, ‘Caviar Diplomacy: How Azerbaijan Silenced the Council of Europe’ that was published in 2012. The newest report, looks at the progress if any, on the state of affairs at the Council of Europe and corruption and concludes there has been little achieved.[11] When lobbying is not enoughIn Kazakhstan, ‘nation-branding has become a permanent feature of the state discourse’ argues Sabina Insebayeva, visiting fellow at George Washington University. ‘Since becoming familiar with the idea of the ‘brand state’, Kazakhstan has deployed a full panoply of branding strategies to cultivate a positive international image, including wide media exposure, ‘spectacular urbanisation’, and aggressive pursuit of image building projects’.[12] As in the case of Kazakhstan, in Azerbaijan too, no government funds are too much such that, the government of Azerbaijan covered all expenses (including free taxi rides) of some 6,000 athletes who came to compete in the first European Games in 2015. The multi-billion dollar effort cost an estimated US$1.2bn although many said, the real figures are much higher especially when one considers that the Olympic Stadium alone came with a US$600m price tag.[13] In 2016, Azerbaijan was host to its first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix. Speaking at Azerbaijan-Germany Economic Forum in Berlin, President Aliyev proudly boasted that the race “will attract great attention to our country”. President Aliyev seemed not to be bothered by the tanking economy, and two sharp currency devaluations. But while the president was busy signing off agreements, others paid were paying attention after all. In February 2016, the country was downgraded by Fitch on its long-term foreign and local currency bonds.[14] And just a month earlier, Azerbaijan’s debt was downgraded to ‘junk’ by Standard and Poor’s with a warning to potential investors.[15] But the most recent stunt in image branding and urge for recognition was adaptation of a book, Ali and Nino, a novel by writer Kurban Said (known as Lev Nussembaum) about a love story between Azeri Muslim Ali and Georgian Christian Nino. The couple’s story revolves around World War I and Azerbaijan’s struggle for independence. But with the film’s executive producer being the daughter of Azerbaijan’s president the film turned out to be more of a love story than a film about the country’s first independent republic and the efforts that went into achieving it.[16] Needless to say, the film received much praise from the authorities. But praise and dismissal is what many authoritarian states know and do best. When the FIFA corruption scandal hit the media, one of the main event sponsors Gazprom was quick to dismiss the scandal. In fact, the Russian oil giant was the only sponsor who expressed no concern. In an interview with CNN, the company's spokesman Sergei Kuprianov said, “of course, Gazprom’s sponsorship agreement is not affected by the situation around FIFA. How can this situation affect it? It simply can’t”.[17] Kuprianov is absolutely right because no one knows corruption better than Gazprom itself which has been accused of anti-competitive practices in its business operations; suspected of overcharging customers; engaged in fraud, document falsification and money laundering to name a few.[18] But few are going to question this as Russia hosts the 2018 World Cup across 11 of its cities and Azerbaijan chiming in by hosting four qualifying games. Lies, surveillance and all that jazzGeorge Orwell once said, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful, and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. If there is one thing some of the most repressive post-Soviet states like Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have in common, then it is to make lies sound truthful. And they have media to do that both at home and abroad. In the case of Russia, we have observed how over recent years, it has gained momentum through its international mouthpiece outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik while stifling independent media voices at home. While outlets such as Dojd TV and Echo Moskvy radio station continue their presence, some say they are preserved simply as a facade of democracy.[19] In Turkmenistan, Soltan Achilova, one of the remaining correspondents with the Turkmen service for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty reporting from within the country was questioned by the police in October 2016. She was then assaulted and robbed. This is not the first time correspondents of Turkmen Service Radio Azatlyk have been harassed. In 2015, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev was sentenced to three years in prison on trumped up drug charges and according to Human Rights Watch[20], Turkmen authorities control print and electronic media while exercising control over internet access too. Not surprisingly, Turkmenistan is among the top ten countries where the internet is censored according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In a previous Foreign Policy Centre publication, No shelter: The harassment of activists abroad by intelligence services from the former Soviet Union, many of the authors wrote in detail about the various forms of persecution that dissidents face at home and even after fleeing their countries, often having their families go through persecution too, including intimidation and fear.In January 2017, family members of dissident Azerbaijani rapper Jamal Ali were arrested and detained for four days. The arrests came shortly after the rapper released a video titled “Heykel Baba” [Monument Grandpa] on December 31. The lyrics of the song were a sharp criticism of the ruling regime in Baku and for arresting youth activists Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov and later sentencing them to 10 years in jail. In an interview with 29-year-old rapper said, “they are in jail for nonsense, a fact that most people see but can’t express in Azerbaijan out of fear”.[21] More recently, an attempt to keep top investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil from speaking to the European Parliament from her home in Azerbaijan is not just a matter of concern but evidence of the regime in Baku keeping its critics from speaking at any cost. Ismayil who spent 17 months in jail on bogus charges but who was released in May 2016, cannot leave Azerbaijan, as she is still facing five year travel ban. On February 6, Ismayil was invited to testify on the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan. Just twenty minutes before she was scheduled to speak her internet connection was cut off and five minutes later, the electricity was cut off in the entire district where she lives in Baku. Looking out of her apartment window, Khadija noticed two SUV cars parked outside with satellite dishes on their roofs, blocking the cell service. She was only able to proceed with her call after she left her apartment and was in a taxi. But her call was brief. 10 minutes into her call the taxi she was in was surrounded by three police cars. Surprised, the taxi driver got out of the car, trying to make sense of the commotion outside. He then told Khadija police told him he must drive the car into the car pound. Speaking to the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Ismayil said it was important she stayed focused, especially seeing as the authorities were eager to stop her from addressing the event participants in Brussels.[22] The tactic of cutting off internet connection and electricity is new, when one looks at the regime’s history of thwarting measures such as deploying an army of government sponsored trolls for lynching. Over the years, Azerbaijan active netizens saw their accounts harassed by members of IRELI- a pro-government youth organisation; youth branch of the ruling party New Azerbaijan (YAP); other pro-government youth organisations and some genuine accounts who believed the government was right, and its critics were wrong. And given there has never been a sense of free expression and diversity of views, the latter made sure the critics were targeted. These accounts have called anti-government pundits traitors, enemies, liars, and a number of other derogatory terms. When they are not on the offensive, “their tweets are repetitive, and seem automatically generated, full of fawning praise for the government and hatred for those who are not as pleased with the regime as they are”.[23] Trolls are often put to use at international events too where Azerbaijan is criticised for its dismal human rights record. During OSCE’s Human Rights Dimension Meeting in Warsaw last year, a number of accounts from Azerbaijan hijacked conference hashtag #HDIM2016 sharing graphic war photographs from the Karabakh conflict, demanding conference participants recognise the illegal occupation of Azerbaijan territories and the committed violence. With the advent of surveillance tools, authoritarian states have also made sure they do not lag behind. In July 2015, it was revealed that Azerbaijan was among 21 clients of a Milan based firm The Hacking Team that was selling surveillance technology. Some of these tools allow authoritarian regimes break into individual’s computers and mobile phones, record Skype calls, turn on built-in device cameras, record audio and steal documents. Other clients include Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan from the former Soviet Union.[24] It is also not surprising that authorities in Azerbaijan as well as elsewhere in countries mentioned in this paper, have used DdOS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service). 2016 was a challenging year in that sense. According to the Index on Censorship Mapping Media Freedom, there were 38 threats to press freedom including blocked access to critical news websites such as dissident platform Meydan TV, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, and opposition newspaper Azadliq.[25] In Uzbekistan for years authorities have blocked access to international media outlets like The New York Times, Financial Times, Reuters, BBC and Deutsche Welle however in a sweeping wave of liberalisation many were unblocked in December 2016. And yet observers are sceptical seeing this as a temporary change.  The country has also introduced some 38 state-run social media sites in past years, one in the summer of 2016. But Facebook and Russian social network Odnoklassniki remain the most popular as their users fear their data is made easily accessible to the authorities. One of the many state-run social media sites servers belong to the state telecom provider, which is an easy access point for the authorities at home to check on its netizens and their presence online.[26] Russia introduced legislation in 2014 on data storage as part of its surveillance legislation package which allowed the country’s telecommunications agency Roskomnadzor to block websites. A more recent move using this legislation was used against professional website LinkedIn as Roskomnadzor moved to block access to the page for violating the law. But more recently, trends of cracking down and shrinking space for activists is becoming a global phenomenon and more and more counties are turning to the familiar measures used by authoritarian states to silence dissent and keep tabs on the work that is being carried out by dissident voices. The question we should be asking ourselves is whether we are ready to put on our best suit and continue the fight, or is it that time of the century when mass exhaustion, trauma and frustration will get the better of us? I think there is still some hope despite the “bigly” threats we are yet to witness.  [1] Freedom House, Freedom in the world 2017, Populists and Autocrats: the dual threat to global democracy[2] Freedom House, Freedom in the world 2017, Populists and Autocrats: the dual threat to global democracy[3] Justin Burke, Post-Soviet world: what you need to know about the 15 states, June 2014[4] Helsinki Watch, The former Soviet Union, 1993,[5] Freedom House, Freedom in the world 2017, Populists and Autocrats: the dual threat to global democracy,[6] Birth and death of democracy in Tajikistan: memories and reflections about elections from 1990 until 2016, CAP Papers 174 September 2016, Muhiddin Kabiri,[7] Arzu Geybulla, Two young activists get 10 years in jail each after graffiti on Azerbaijan Patriarch’s Statue. December 9, 2016[8] Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 61, No. 7 September 2009, 1123-1136, Routledge, National Branding in Central Asia: a New campaign to present ideas about the state and the nation, Erica Marat,[9] Ministry of Foreign Affairs- Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan - Heart of Eurasia, November 2015[10] The Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy Index 2016, Revenge of the Deplorables[11] The European Swamp (Caviar Diplomacy Part 2)- Prosecutors, corruption and the Council of Europe, December  2016, European Stability Initiative,[12] Imagining the nation: identity, national building, and foreign policy in Kazakhstan, CAP Papers 175, Central Asia Fellowship Series, September 2016[13] Rayhan Demytrie, Azerbaijan’s price for hosting first European Games, BBC, June  2015,[14] Bloomberg, Fitch downgrades Azerbaijan to ‘BB+’; Outlook negative, February 2016[15] Standard and Poor’s downgrades Azerbaijan’s debt to ‘junk’, RFERL, January 2016[16] Arzu Geybullayeva, In Baku’s hands, beloved novel becomes nation-branding infomercial,, November 2016,[17] Tim Fernholz, The FIFA corporate sponsor dashboard, May 2015,[18][19] Witold Waszczykowski, The battle for the hearts and minds: countering propaganda attacks against the euro-atlantic community, NATO parliamentary assembly, Draft Report, March 2015.[20] Human Rights Watch, Turkmenistan: Journalist harassed, assaulted, November 2016[21] Lamiya Adilgizi, Azerbaijan: Rapper’s Family Punished over song critical of government, January 2017,[22] Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Released but not free: Azerbaijan’s government fails to silence Khadija Ismayilova, February 2017, Karina Shedrofsky,[23] Arzu Geybulla, In the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s patriotic trolls, OpenDemocracy, November 2016,[24] Mapping Hacking Team’s “Untraceable” Spyware, CitizenLab, February 2014,[25] Critical websites blocked in Azerbaijan, December 2016, IRFS,[26] Uzbekistan launches its 38th own brand social network, Inga Sikorskaya, June 2016 [post_title] => How governments in the former Soviet Union promote their agendas and attack their opponents abroad [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => governments-former-soviet-union-promote-agendas-attack-opponents-abroad [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 16:24:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 16:24:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2309 [post_author] => 11 [post_date] => 2016-11-21 11:10:30 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-21 11:10:30 [post_content] => For some Azerbaijanis living abroad, Baku’s official decision issued on April 30th 2015 introducing a compulsory registration of its citizens living abroad with Azerbaijan’s diplomatic missions in the countries where they live meant very little if nothing at all. But the country’s political émigrés had a different take on this decision[1]. For them, this was yet another step taken by the government of Azerbaijan to spy on and persecute its dissidents who have moved abroad.[2] Azerbaijan is not the only country in the post-Soviet space to pursue its dissidents living abroad. From Uzbekistan, Belarus and Tajikistan to Turkmenistan, Russia and others, political dissidents face on-going harassment, persecution, threats and, in some cases, even murder. As a result, leaving persecution behind by fleeing their home country becomes a relative concept, as the secret service apparatus, in most if not all of the former Soviet Union states, continues to use measures and methods to keep dissidents on high alert and in fear of imminent danger to their lives and the lives of their loved ones. In some cases these threats include simple surveillance, occasional phone calls and persecution of family members left behind, while in others direct threats to life are made. An attempt to call on its citizens living abroad for a compulsory registration as in the case of Azerbaijan is yet another way used by these regimes to keep tabs on everyone, including those who leave. The following piece looks at some of the cases of émigrés from Azerbaijan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Chechnya, offering a glimpse of a dangerous life even after leaving the suffocating grip of the leaders behind. Future in fear and uncertaintyIn the Foreign Policy Centre’s 2014 publication Shelter from the storm? Dr David Lewis noted that ‘alongside intelligence-gathering, exiles face harassment and attempts to persuade them to give up political or journalistic activity or to inform on other dissidents’.[3] The report argued that some of the most effective measures to silence government critics living abroad is to pressure individuals’ families still living in their countries of origin. Other measures include using ‘INTERPOL to target opponents, extradite or forcibly return dissidents to face persecution at home’. Dashgin Agalarli, an activist from Azerbaijan now living in Georgia knows all too well what such methods entail. In an interview with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Agalarli agrees that leaving the country does not mean the persecution will end: “Those who have left the country due to political persecution are now being hounded abroad” and that the government of Azerbaijan would resort to all measures necessary to round up these individuals of interest.[4] Agalarli was detained in 2014 for six months in Georgia at the request of Baku officials. According to the Azerbaijan service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Agalarli was arrested for an alleged tax debt to the government of Azerbaijan who handed his information to Interpol.[5] He was released following a trial that was monitored by international rights organisations and the UN. Following what happened to Agalarli, the new rule introduced by Azerbaijan requiring all citizens to register with consulates is simply yet another form of surveillance. Gulnur Kazimova, is a freelance journalist who left Azerbaijan in December 2014 shortly after she penned a piece about a village protest blocking the road to Azerbaijan’s second largest city of Ganja. She was informed that the Ministry of Internal Affairs had launched a criminal case against her on the grounds of distorting the truth in her story. She travelled to neighbouring Georgia with her little boy, crossing the border overnight, her husband joined her with their daughter two days later. They have been based in Georgia since then but the close ties between the two states and the earlier incident with Dasghin Agalarli keep Gulnur and her family on high alert. Gulnur explained to Amnesty International that ‘we have felt signs that we are being watched. For our own safety, we have moved 11 times in just 17 months’.[6] In an interview for this essay held in November 2016, Gulnur also said that she had to switch her child’s kindergarten three times when she realised the same car would appear in places she visited.[7] In the meantime, her brother lost his job in Azerbaijan due to what she believes is a direct consequence of her work. According to Kazimova “he worked at one of the wedding restaurants as a camera person. He was fired after one of my stories was published in Azerbaijan”. For almost a year since her departure, local police in Ganja kept visiting her family and asking questions. Her father-in-law lost his job as well. Police demanded that Kazimova’s parents insist on her return to Azerbaijan. Pressuring political exiles through family members and relatives is not uncommon in other country cases as well. As Dr David Lewis explained in Shelter from the Storm?, ‘Many members of the family of exiled Turkmen dissident Annadurdy Khajiyev have been harassed, sent into internal exile or imprisoned. There have also been cases in Uzbekistan where family members of dissidents in exile have faced either criminal charges or other types of persecution or harassment in business or everyday life’.[8] Among other Azerbaijani political émigrés whose family members faced similar persecution there is the case of Gunel Movlud, an Azerbaijan writer who left her home and relocated to Georgia with her husband. It was during her work with Meydan TV and the Azerbaijan Service of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty that Movlud’s two brothers were arrested, and charged on bogus charges of drug possession while her mother announced that she disowned her daughter in 2015. Writing on her Facebook wall, Movlud wrote, ‘Friends, I do not want to talk much about what has happened. Even a child would understand these arrests are targeting Meydan TV. They don’t want anyone to work with Meydan. They are using relatives to pressure […] The arrest of my two brothers left my parents who are both battling with their health to death [Movlud’s father passed away recently and she was unable to attend the funeral because of the exile] […] They can do anything. I am afraid and fear is absolutely normal […] Those who cannot keep silent will continue to speak up’.[9] In 2013, Hebib Muntezir an influential Azerbaijani blogger living in Berlin was threatened with death. Muntezir who by then had lived in Germany for the past 12 years received information from various sources that a man named Tural Gurbanov, who had been appointed as second secretary at the Azerbaijan Embassy in Germany, was alleged to be planning an assassination on Muntezir. Muntezir reported the case to the German police. In April 2013, Muntezir joined forces with another influential political dissident and former political prisoner Emin Milli to set up a new independent media platform called Meydan TV. After successfully launching the platform just months after being tipped off about an assassination attempt, the two learned that the same man Tural Gurbanov had been found dead in a room of a five star hotel in the Maldives. On July 31, the press service of the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry confirmed the death of its employee stating that the cause of death was heart failure. Gurbanov was reported to be 27 years old at the time of his death. According to Emin Milli[10] and, as explained in an interview he gave to Deutsche Welle[11], Gurbanov was believed to be an employee of the secret service working undercover in Germany.[12] Death in a time of ruthless leadersThere are grimmer stories of dissidents and political exiles from the post-Soviet space trying to dodge the intelligence services. Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB officer and author of the book Blowing up Russia was fatally poisoned in London’s Millenium Hotel in 2006 over a cup of tea with Andrei Lugovoi, also formerly of the KGB family and Dmitri Kovtun, a Red Army deserter.[13] Two years later, another murder in London of Alexander Perepilichny raised additional questions as lawyers in the Perepilichny case alleged that there were parallels between his death and that of Litvinenko.[14] Recent developments in the investigation indicated traces of Gelsemium elegans also known as ‘heartbreak grass’ poison. His dead body was found near his home in London days before Perepilichny was about to testify in a $220 million fraud case involving Russian officials that had previously claimed the life of Sergei Magnitsky.[15] The UK is among the most popular destinations for Russians who flee Putin’s regime. In a story penned by Julia Loffe in 2015, the author pointed to Russian official statistics that put the number of émigrés in 2014 at nearly two hundred thousand, a total that does not include the unofficial departees escaping the ‘increasingly authoritarian atmosphere of Moscow and the deepening economic crisis’.[16] After London, comes Paris and New York, with Riga and Prague following in terms of popularity as destinations for Russian exile seekers. In 2009, Chechen war veteran and former bodyguard to current Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Umar Israilov was shot twice in the head outside of his home in Vienna in broad daylight. While living in exile, Israilov filed complaints with the European Court of Human Rights that he was tortured by the Kadyrov regime. Earlier that year, another Chechen, Sulim Yamadayev who fled Chechnya in 2008 was found dead from three gun shots in his car in Dubai.[17] An Uzbek rights activist Nadejda Atayeva, who heads the Association of Human Rights in Central Asia from exile in France, was accused of stealing millions of dollars in an announcement on national television by Uzbek authorities in April 2012.[18] The defamation attempt came days after Atayeva raised the assassination of another Uzbek national, Obidhon-kori Nazarov, who was a prominent Imam based in Sweden but murdered in February 2012.[19] Another prominent Uzbek national was persecuted in Turkey where on December 10th 2014, Abdulla Bukhari [real name Mirzagalip Hamidov] was gunned down in Istanbul at the entrance to one of his madrasas. Known for his criticism of then Uzbek President the now late Islam Karimov, Bukhari is alleged to have been on the target list of both the Uzbek and Russian spy services.[20]  In an interview with Foreign Policy in 2015,[21] another Uzbek human rights activist, Dilorom Iskhakova said that, despite her relocation to Turkey by UN asylum officials, the threats against her have not abated. The usual methods in Iskhakova’s case include phone calls with a man threatening to rape and kill her on the other end of the line. The most disturbing pattern in all these cases is that of dates and consequences. No matter whether the case took place ten years ago, three years ago or more recently, the bottom line is that political émigrés fleeing the claws of ruthless rulers continue to face threats even while living abroad. And while it is the activists and their family members who pay the price, the majority of leaders behind these continuing extortions remain unpunished, while the persecution of their nationals is a chilling reminder to the outside world, that granting asylum alone is not enough and it takes profound effort on behalf of governments and institutions in the countries where activists seek shelter to ensure their safety and wellbeing.[1] Afgan Mukhtarli, Azerbaijan government watching its expats, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, May 2015,[2] For Azerbaijanis this new rule is not an isolated attempt of control but goes hand in hand with 2014 amendment to the law on citizenship. According to this, deprivation of citizenship may occur if a citizen of Azerbaijan acquires new citizenship; s/he voluntary serves in state bodies, municipalities, armed forces, and other armed units of foreign states; s/he jeopardize state security [no clear definitions on what this entails]; and document/data fraud while applying for Azerbaijan citizenship. In addition, new penalties were introduced in 2015 for failing to inform the relevant state bodies when a second citizenship is acquired. Fines range from 3,000 to 5,000AZN and community service of between 360 and 480 hours. In addition, amendments to the country’s constitution passed on 26 September 2016 allows for Azerbaijanis to be stripped of their citizenship rights ‘in accordance with the law’. Prior to this amendment, the Constitution served as a guarantee that under no circumstances a citizen of Azerbaijan can be stripped off their citizenship. See the Azerbaijan Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, New penalties are proposed for nationals of Azerbaijan attaining new citizenship, April 2015,[3] Dr David Lewis, Exporting repression: Extraterritorial practices and Central Asian authoritarianism in Adam Hug (ed.) Shelter from the storm? The asylum, refuge and extradition situation facing activists from the former Soviet Union in the CIS and Europe, Foreign Policy Centre, April 2014,[4] Afghan Mukhtarli, Azerbaijani government watching its expats, May 2015,[5] Azerbaijan Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Tbilisi wants to hand over Azerbaijan opposition activist Dashgin Agalarli to Baku, July 2014,[6] Gulnur Kazimova, Exiled from Azerbaijan just for being a journalist, Amnesty International, June 2016,[7] Interview with Gulnut Kazimova,Tbilisi, Georgia, November 2016[8] Dr David Lewis, Exporting repression: Extraterritorial practices and Central Asian authoritarianism in Adam Hug (ed.) Shelter from the storm? The asylum, refuge and extradition situation facing activists from the former Soviet Union in the CIS and Europe, Foreign Policy Centre, April 2014,[9] Arzu Geybulla, Azerbaijan, the land where parents disown their children, October 2015,[10] From personal discussions.[11] Meydan TV, Emin Milli: EuroGames are PR for the ruling family, June 2015,[12] Foreign ministry confirmed the death of its employee,, July 2013,[13] Alan Cowell, Putin ‘Probably Approved’ Litvinenko Poisoning, British Inquiry Says, January 2016,[14] John Keenan, The strange death of Alexander Perepilichnyy, September 2016,[15] Nico Hines, Britain warns allies: Russia’s next assassination could be on your streets, January 2016,[16]Julia Loffe, Remote Control: Can an exiled oligarch persuade Russia that Putin must go? January, 2015,[17] Brandee Leon, Killin the dissidents: Kadyrov can-and has-gotten to many other dissident outside of Chechnya, December 2014,[18] Atayeva is a fellow contributor to this essay collection.[19] Human Rights Watch, Russia: Investigate death threats against defender, January 2013,[20] Yenisafak, Mystery of worldwide assassinations of Ubzbek dissidents unfolds, November 2015,[21] Umar Farooq, The hunted, April 2015, [post_title] => Big brother and his middlemen are always watching you [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => big-brother-middlemen-always-watching [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-14 13:12:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-14 13:12:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ))

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