On March 5, 2021, at the congress of the Ne Azerbaijan Party (NAP) chaired by President Ilham Aliyev, he once again voiced hatred and insults against his opponents. Referring to the National Council, he said: “If we exclude the ‘anti-national council’, which calls itself a political body, all political forces have shown a tendency towards dialogue, welcomed our initiative and this dialogue has already taken place … When it comes to ‘anti-national elements’, of course, we cannot gather with them around a table, because they are traitors…These national traitors who have gathered today in the National Council…Perhaps there have never been any more disgusting people in the history of Azerbaijan”.
In the same speech, the head of state also made absurd accusations against the National council including being “foreign funded” and “serving Armenians.” Ilham Aliyev has been consistently giving such hate speeches against the National Council for a year now. The first time he announced his intention was during a Novruz holiday address to the nation on March 19 last year, where he said that he would target the National Council and the Popular Front Party without any grounds necessary – isolate and ‘end’ them. In doing so, it instructed a new wave of repression against these organizations. In the following months, Ilham Aliyev voiced the same views against the National Council and the Popular Front Party at every opportunity, “giving the green light” to the continuation of repression.
A new wave of repression, which began with the arrest of Tofig Yagublu, a member of the Coordination Center of the National Council, immediately after Ilham Aliyev’s hate speech a year ago is ongoing. During this period, the functionary of the National Council and the Popular Front Party came under various forms of pressure. Dozens of APFP activists have been sentenced to administrative detention. Niyamaddin Ahmadov, the bodyguard of the chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (APFP), was arrested on trumped-up charges and severely tortured. He was deprived of visits and telephone contact with his family for over nine months.
Ali Karimli, the chairman of the Popular Front Party (APFP), whose foreign passport has been confiscated for over 10 years now, has been placed under an ongoing communication blockade, including denial of any internet service. Worse yet, 16 members of the Popular Front Party (APFP), including APFP leaders, were arrested in connection with the government’s provocation during the Karabakh march in Baku after an Armenian attack in Tovuz in July of last year (despite the fact that some of them were not even present at the march).
A total of 37 people, with the exception of one APFP member were arrested in the case, and are currently under house arrest awaiting trial. The President’s continued rhetoric about the National Council and the Popular Front Party even during the days of the second Karabakh war, which began in September of last year was even more disappointing to witness. Since during those days, the National Council and the Popular Front Party, worked together with our people as a whole as an organizational body, focusing their attention and activity on the war – working only to support our army and targeting only the enemy.
The leadership of the National Council and the Popular Front Party announced in public statements that they had halted their opposition to the government during the war, and unanimously complied with this strategy to the end. This is also the reason why Ilham Aliyev’s slanders which were addressed against the National Council and the Popular Front Party during the war were left unanswered.
Unfortunately, although the Azerbaijani society expected significant positive changes in the country after the war, including a more civilized approach by the government towards its rivals, the government demonstrated its unwillingness to reform in many aspects including its political affairs. The real voices of opposition in the country were persecuted, and the police regime re-empowered immediately after the war.
Mohammad Imanli, a member of the Popular Front Party detained during the Karabakh march, was imprisoned on false charges of spreading COVID19 and is currently in custody. Two new members of the Popular Front Party were sentenced to various terms of administrative detention. Several other party members were harassed and persecuted by the police, either directly or through family members, in order to suspend their political activities. The appalling trial of the PFPA members convicted during the Karabakh march (including the absurd conviction of Ruslan Amirov, another bodyguard of the PFPA chairman, months later) continues.
The government-sanctioned trial of Tofig Yagublu, a member of the Coordination Center of the National Council, is also being extended. Another member of the Coordination Center of the National Council, Gultekin Hajibeyli, is being forced to pay a large fine by an absurd court decision, threatening her with the confiscation of her house. In addition, her son, who has been accepted to a school in Germany, is not being allowed to leave the country to commence his education.
These persecutions are a continuation of the growing policy of ruthless repression against the National Council. One of the leading members of the National Council, Gozel Bayramli, lost her life, while another, Ogtay Gulaliyev, lost his health and ability to function as a result of these repressions.
In addition, during the post-war period, NIDA member Elmir Abbasov was sentenced to administrative detention, bloggers Elchin Hasanzadeh and Ibrahim Turksoy were sentenced to long prison terms, poet Ibrahim Khudayi was taken to the police and threatened.
Meanwhile, Pari Miniatur, a painter and Shahla Humbatova, a lawyer are being threatened with being fired from their jobs. The reason behind the repression of all the aforementioned people is the same, that is, their position and speech which is critical of the government. Aliyev’s hate speech at the NAP congress shows that all this is not a mere manifestation of amateurism, rather a revival of the policy of repression as per the instructions of the President himself. Aliyev is eager to put an end not only to the principled political opposition, but also to the remnants of civil society and even independent creatives, and oddly considers the post-war period favorable for this.
In his latest hate speech, Ilham Aliyev gave a clear message that, contrary to the expectations of the society, he will not lead to any reforms or positive changes in the country, and is rather interested in the aggravation of socio-political relations, confrontation and aggression within society. His speech can also be seen as a call for the next wave of repression.
Unfortunately, it appears Aliyev wants to continue to rule Azerbaijan with the same strict authoritarian approach which earned it a spot among the list of the 10 least free countries in the world, according to the Freedom House’s ranking on the Human Rights Index. There are around 150 political prisoners in the country, politically motivated trials continue, the situation with freedom of speech and assembly remains dire, and so on.
The democratic community of the world and the people of Azerbaijan must not remain silent in the face of the brutal violation of local and international laws and the establishment of a classical dictatorship in the country by the government of Ilham Aliyev, and resist it by all means possible.
The National Council states that it will not take a step back from the struggle for democracy in Azerbaijan regardless of how the heavy the price may be. However, our people must also clearly understand that it is they who must face the government of Ilham Aliyev, who has completely turned his back on the democratic world and established his spot among the most authoritarian regimes in the world. At this stage, only the efforts of our people can save the country from this deplorable situation. Our people must give more confident and serious support to the country’s real opposition forces and civil society, showing greater interest in organizing, and taking a more mass and active part in the struggle for freedom and justice. The National Council calls on our people to be more proactive and persistent in order to take control of their own destiny.