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Activists imprisoned in Azerbaijan, the house that BP built

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, June 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A protest against Azerbaijan’s crackdown on political dissent will be staged in London this Friday, 12 June, as the first European Games open in Baku.

At least 33 human rights defenders, youth movement activists, bloggers, journalists and others have been jailed in the last year in Azerbaijan – where the UK-based oil group BP is the largest foreign investor.

Campaign groups and media have been shut down, and dissidents forced to leave the country, just as economic problems have brought large numbers of Azeris out to protest.

There has been a “major escalation of government repression, pressure and intimidation, directed at NGOs, civil society activists, journalists and human rights defenders”, a resolution of the European Parliament said in September last year. It highlighted:

  • Some of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights defenders, including Leyla Yunus of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, and her husband the historian Arif Yunus, have been imprisoned on “apparently politically motivated charges”;
  • “Eight activists of the non-governmental youth movement NIDA were convicted on [trumped up] charges of hooliganism, drug possession and possession of explosives” after a wave of demonstrations in 2013;
  • The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation, the only independent group championing the labour rights of Azeri oil workers, has had its bank accounts frozen and faced other forms of harassment; and
  • Many more journalists, human rights defenders and activists are facing trumped-up legal charges, and “dozens” of
    others have been imprisoned on charges such as “hooliganism, drug possession, tax evasion and even treason”.

Despite international criticism, the regime has stepped up repression as next week’s games have drawn nearer. Rasul Jafarov, who organised the “Sing for Democracy” protest when the Eurovision song contest was held in Baku, and then took forward that campaign with “Art for Democracy” was sentenced to six and a half years in jail on 16 April, the same day that BP held its annual shareholders’ meeting in London.

On Friday demonstrators in London will go to the corporate headquarters of BP. It’s an excellent choice: there can not be many economies so completely dominated by one foreign company as Azerbaijan’s is by BP.

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