Violations of international humanitarian law continued to be reported and there was no notable progress investigating alleged war crimes committed during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Freedom of expression, assembly and association remained severely restricted as authorities carried out arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions of civil society activists, crushed peaceful protests and hindered the work of independent organizations and media outlets. Women and girls continued to face discrimination.
Azerbaijan’s role in the supply and transit of energy supplies grew. It pursued an increasingly assertive economic and military policy, particularly after Russia’s influence in the region fell following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent Western sanctions.
Security along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border remained fragile. During a flare-up between 12-14 September, Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia proper, in the Syunik, Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor provinces, killed at least two civilians. In October, Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed on the short-term deployment of an EU monitoring mission along their border.
The Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, was blocked since 12 December and remained closed at the end of the year. Dozens of Azerbaijani protesters had blocked the road, demanding an end to alleged unlawful mining in the area and that Azerbaijan retake control of the corridor. Russian peacekeeping forces subsequently barricaded the road to prevent an escalation of tensions. Access to essential goods and services for ethnic Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh was disrupted and hundreds of people were stranded.
Violations of international humanitarian law
On 2 October, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation into a video which had first appeared online shortly beforehand showing a group of men in Azerbaijani military uniforms rounding up and shooting at least six Armenian soldiers. The investigation was continuing at the end of the year, with no progress reported in identifying those responsible. Likewise, no substantive progress was made in investigating war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law during the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and in its immediate aftermath, or in identifying and bringing to justice suspected perpetrators.
According to an ICRC report issued in August, over 300 Armenians missing on Azerbaijan’s territory remained unaccounted for.
People continued to be killed and injured by mines which Azerbaijan claimed Armenian forces continued to lay in its internationally recognized territory, retaken in 2020. Azerbaijani authorities also maintained that the mine maps provided earlier by Armenia were not reliable. In October, the Azerbaijani authorities reported that 45 people had been killed and 221 injured by mines since the 2020 conflict.
Freedom of expression
Media remained severely restricted, with websites publishing dissenting views blocked and critical social media users arbitrarily penalized and prosecuted. Having effectively muzzled most of the independent media in the country, authorities targeted critical outlets reporting on Azerbaijan from abroad.
On 8 February, the president enacted a new media law requiring the owners of media outlets serving Azerbaijani audiences to reside permanently in the country, making them vulnerable to censorship and persecution. The new law further increased state control over Azerbaijani media by, among other things, requiring all journalists to obtain official registration and report information “objectively”, while failing to provide a clear explanation for this requirement in the law.
Authorities continued to subject civil society activists and independent media to arbitrary arrest and other forms of harassment. In September Azerbaijani human rights organizations reported that 99 people were imprisoned on politically motivated charges.
Female journalists appeared to be targeted in particular. On 15 February, police detained, beat and insulted two journalists, Fatima Movlamli and Sevinj Sadigova, while they were covering protests by mothers of deceased Azerbaijani servicemen. Ayten Mammedova sustained minor injuries when she was assaulted in a lift on 8 May by an unknown assailant with a knife. His threats made it clear that the attack was connected to her work as a journalist.
On 23 April, former prisoner of conscience and prominent activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev reported that he had been kidnapped and beaten by masked men who warned him against criticizing the interior minister. On 9 December, following a private dispute, a Baku court ordered his pretrial detention for 50 days over politically motivated charges of hooliganism and contempt of court. Activists and individuals with dissenting views over the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict were targeted by an online smear campaign reportedly orchestrated through government-linked social media accounts.
On 20 September, Ahmad Mammadli, activist and head of the NGO Democracy 1918 Movement, was jailed for 30 days for criticizing President Aliyev following clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In November, two other activists of the NGO were also given 30 days’ detention for purportedly disobeying police.
On 11 September, Avaz Zeynali, chief editor of the independent news outlet Xural, and lawyer Elchin Sadigov, known for representing opposition figures, were arrested on politically motivated charges of accepting and facilitating bribery, respectively. On 20 September Elchin Sadigov was transferred by the court to house arrest, while Avaz Zeynali remained in pretrial detention at the end of the year.
At least six activists critical of the government were arrested on what appeared to be fabricated drug-related charges, in separate cases, after their asylum applications were rejected by Germany and they were deported to Azerbaijan.
Freedom of assembly and association
The right to freedom of association remained curtailed while excessive restrictions, both in law and practice, continued to hinder the work of human rights defenders and NGOs.
Authorities continued to arbitrarily restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Police broke up peaceful anti-government rallies in the capital, Baku, on at least three occasions between May and November. Peaceful protesters were rounded up, beaten and arbitrarily detained; most were released shortly afterwards without formal charges being brought.
Women’s and girls’ rights
On 4 July, the CEDAW Committee expressed concern about internally displaced women and girls who faced limited access to education, employment, healthcare and housing. It recommended that Azerbaijan abolish restrictions in the country’s Labour Code, which prohibits women from working in 204 professions.