Freedom Now strongly condemns the recent arrest and judicial harassment of five anti-war activists in Azerbaijan. The arrests occurred in the days surrounding the renewal of hostilities by Azerbaijan in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. We call on Azerbaijani authorities to reverse this alarming trend of stifling calls for peace and respect basic human rights and freedoms, as well as for international partners to ensure Azerbaijan complies with its treaty commitments as a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On September 19, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive into the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. It was the first major action in the region taken by Azerbaijan since the end of Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in November 2020. The incursion came in the midst of an escalating humanitarian crisis as residents of Nagorno-Karabakh faced dwindling medical and food supplies due to an ongoing blockade of the only road into the region. The offensive ended the following day after a ceasefire brokered by Russian peacekeepers.
Azerbaijan initiated a smear campaign against anti-war activists in the weeks leading up to the offensive. After a letter by an organization called the Feminist Peace Collective was issued urging for an end to the blockade and the conflict, several mainstream media outlets began labeling certain Azerbaijani activists as “traitors” and circulated images of these individuals claiming they were part of a larger Armenian conspiracy backed by Western influences.
This campaign has accelerated with the arrest of the five anti-war activists beginning with the detention of former Azerbaijani diplomat Emin Shaig Ibrahimov. He was arrested and sentenced to at least 30 days in prison on charges of “spreading prohibited information” after a Facebook post in which he criticized the blockade. Others who have been arrested include:
- Amrah Tahmazov, an activist who opposed the 2020 war and served a 30-day sentence in May 2023 for supporting another political prisoner on a hunger strike. Tahmazov was charged with “spreading prohibited information” and sentenced to 30 days in detention;
- Nemat Abbasov, an activist and veteran of the 2020 war. He was charged with disobeying the police and sentenced to 30 days detention after criticizing the war on Facebook;
- Nurlan Gahramanli, a journalist sentenced to 30 days imprisonment for “spreading prohibited information”; and
- Afiaddin Mammadov, a trade union member. He has been placed in pre-trial detention for two months on charges of hooliganism after an unidentified man claimed Mammadov stabbed him. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.
Azerbaijan has a long history of imprisoning government critics on politically-motivated charges. By some estimates there are at least 200 political prisoners in the country. The arrests of these anti-war activists signal a troubling trend and possibly a prelude to a larger crackdown on civil society. Freedom Now calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to cease the politically-motivated prosecution of anti-war activists, to repeal the laws effectively criminalizing dissent and free speech, to vacate the convictions of those already sentenced, and to ensure all of its citizens can safely exercise the fundamental rights enshrined in international law.