Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Azerbaijan: Baku hits back after UK minister's criticism

Baku hits back after UK minister's criticism

The Azeri Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in response to recent comments by UK minister for Europe David Lidington on the sentencing of the civil society activist Hasan Huseynli to a six-year prison term on charges of “hooliganism”. Huseynli has headed the Gandja-based Intelligent Citizen NGO and repeatedly criticised human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.

His trial has drawn a barrage of criticisms from local civil society and international observers as well as from the US diplomatic mission. “In recent years the British embassy in Baku worked closely with Mr Huseynli on projects designed to promote social entrepreneurship and strengthen female participation in civil society,” Lidington said. “Mr Huseynli joins a growing number of civil society activists sentenced to lengthy prison terms. I again call on Azerbaijan to address concerns felt by many about the increasingly worrying trend of detentions and prison sentences which appear to be politically motivated.” 

The Azeri foreign ministry called this assessment “unwarranted interference in a sovereign state’s internal affairs” and added that Huseynli’s contributions to civil society development did not exempt him from responsibility for the criminal actions he has been indicted with. It advised Lidington to direct his efforts to the “improvement of the human rights situation” in his home country, instead of lecturing other countries on what they should or should not do.

This incident highlights Azerbaijan’s nearly allergic reaction to any sort of external criticism of its political system, which has been dominated since independence by the clan of the late president, Heydar Aliev. His son Ilham Aliev has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2003 and was re-elected to the presidency with 83% of the popular vote in October 2013. 

The Azeri-British relationship is unlikely to suffer any collateral damage. Britain’s new defence secretary Michael Fallon was in Baku earlier this month in his previous capacity of energy minister. During this trip he reiterated the obvious by saying that Azerbaijan remains a top foreign policy priority for the UK because of its tremendous gas reserves and their significance for the EU’s energy security. There is no better proof of the simple fact that no western country is willing to sacrifice its energy stakes in Azerbaijan for the sake of human rights concerns.

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

© 2014 Menas Associates

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