On Tuesday, Khadija Ismayilova, a well-known Azerbaijani investigative reporter, has been imprisoned for seven years for tax dodging and abuse of office, but, according to Thomas de Waal, expert of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, nobody doubts that Ismayilova’s real guilt was her articles about corrupt practices in the Azerbaijani government.
In his BBC article, de Waal says that Ismayilova was imprisoned just three weeks after human rights activists Leyla and Arif Yunusovs.
In the coming months, similar verdicts may be passed against other critics of Ilham Aliyev’s regime: some ten people are now in custody. De Waal warns that as a result of its ant-dissident policy, Azerbaijan is regarded by many in the West as the most authoritarian country in Europe. De Waal wonders why this has happened and why now.
On Monday, President Aliyev convoked his Cabinet to discuss the economic situation in Azerbaijan. It was a signal: now that oil prices are falling and the region is experiencing economic problems, Aliyev needs to be even tougher on dissidents.
According to de Waal, it was also a message to the world community. All of Aliyev’s locked-up critics are pro-western figures. Ismayilova worked for RFE/RL. Now, that US-funded media is banned in Azerbaijan. Its Azerbaijani office was closed five days after Aliyev’s last year’s meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, when Kerry expressed concern for civil society oppressions in Azerbaijan.
One more coincidence is that on the day Ismayilova was sentenced, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Baku. Azerbaijan and Russia are at variance on many issues, particularly, on energy. But as far as government system and mentality are concerned, these two countries are much alike. Both Putin and Aliyev are building fortresses against any changes. For both of them repression is a means to survive and both regard critics as western agents. The more critical Europe and the US will be about Aliyev’s revengeful policy, the further Azerbaijan will be from the West and the closer it will be to Russia.
EADaily has analyzed de Waal’s words and admits that Azerbaijan is actually prone to authoritarianism – just like many countries in the world. But those supporting dissidence in the West seem to have forgotten about the cases of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
The parallel de Waal sees between the imprisonment of Ismayilova and the visit of Lavrov to Baku is simply ridiculous. One can as well say that Aliyev is angry at the West for its decisions to sabotage the European Games in Baku and not to send observers to the forthcoming parliamentary elections and is taking revenge on it by jailing Azerbaijani human rights activists.
De Waal’s purpose is clear. Today, Azerbaijan and Russia are becoming good partners – something they in the West can hardly stomach. And the more hysterical they will be, the wider the gap between Baku and the Western capitals will grow.