August 21
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The government of Azerbaijan does not punish the overwhelming majority of officials who violate human rights, while impunity remains a problem, the Department said in an annual world-wide survey of human rights, reported.

The report was released on Wednesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. During the presentation, he highlighted the importance of respecting human rights for US relations with foreign countries.

The 40-page section on Azerbaijan describes in detail the facts of violations of the law. Among the cases mentioned, on September 26, Teymur Akhundov died in the Gazakh Police station after he was summoned for questioning.  Akhundov’s family alleged his death was caused by physical abuse by police. 

On September 13, State Border Service private Huseyn Gurbanov died under unclear circumstances.  Authorities stated he committed suicide, but family members publicly alleged members of his unit killed him during a hazing ritual. 

“Prisoners at times claimed they endured lengthy confinement periods without opportunity for physical exercise.  They also reported instances of cramped, overcrowded conditions; inadequate ventilation; poor sanitary facilities; inedible food; and insufficient access to medical care.  An example of the latter was the denial of timely eye surgery by Baku prison authorities for Mahammad Ibrahim, an opposition Popular Front Party senior advisor, causing permanent damage to his sight.  On September 29, just one day prior to his expected release, he was charged by prison officials with illegal possession of a knife, a violation that carries the possibility of up to six additional months of imprisonment,” the reported said.

According to the source, judges at times failed to read verdicts publicly or explain their decisions, leaving defendants without knowledge of the reasoning behind the judgment.  Judges also limited the defendant’s right to speak.

“For example, in the third appeal ruling of Ilgar Mammadov, the judge did not explain the court’s rationale for releasing him on August 13 with two years’ probation when he had only 18 months of his sentence remaining,” the report said adding that “on January 12, the Balakan District Court sentenced Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli to a six year prison term.  Authorities reportedly abducted Mukhtarli in Georgia on May 30 and subsequently arrested him in Azerbaijan on smuggling and related charges, which were widely considered politically motivated.  On April 24, the Sheki Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.  On September 18, the Supreme Court rejected Mukhtarli’s appeal of the verdict.”

Government-owned and progovernment outlets continued to dominate broadcast and print media throughout the year.  A limited number of independent online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies, but authorities penalized them in various ways for doing so, the source noted.

“The 2018 IREX Media Sustainability Index stated that “mainstream news media are under the strict control of the ruling elite and only report news that suits its purposes.”  No significant opposition printed publications remained in the country.  Authorities continued exerting pressure on leading media rights organizations.  Foreign media outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the BBC, remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies, although the Russian service Sputnik was allowed to broadcast news on a local radio network.  On August 1, authorities shut the progovernment media holding company APA News Agency, further reducing sources of information in the country,” the report said.

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