Staunton, March 24 – Crude Accountability, an independent environmental and human rights group based in the US, is concerned Baku is using the coronavirus crisis as the occasion to crack down on opposition figures, a concern that activists in many of the post-Soviet states have (crudeaccountability.org/azerbaijani-authorities-should-immediately-release-opposition-leader-tofiq-yugublu/).
Indeed, in an article in The National Interest yesterday, activists Melinda Haring and Doug Klain argue that “autocrats love the coronavirus” because they are “constantly searching for scapegoats, working to rile up the fears of their populace and trying to tighten their grips” (nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/why-autocrats-love-coronavirus-135947).)
But the situation in Azerbaijan is both emblematic and, thanks to Crude Accountability, particularly well-documented. Five days ago, it reports, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he may “isolate” opposition leader during the pandemic “not for health reasons but because ‘we cannot allow the anti-Azerbaijan forces, the fifth column, to take advantage of this situation.’”
He has been as good as his word: three days ago, Azerbaijani police arrested Tofiq Yugublu, a member of the Musavat Party and of the National Council of Democratic Forces in Azerbaijan, on trumped up charges that he had beaten two people during an automobile accident. In fact, they attacked him but were not arrested.
Yugublu’s lawyer was not allowed to meet with him, and an Azerbaijani court has ordered him held for three months in pre-trial detention. If after that time, he is convicted of “hooliganism”, he could be sentenced to as much as six years in prison (contact.az/ext/news/2020/3/free/politics%20news/ru/122583.htm and turan.az/ext/news/2020/3/free/politics%20news/en/122593.htm.)
Crude Accountability calls on Western governments to “urgently raise this case with the Azerbaijani authorities and call for Yugublu’s immediate and unconditional release.” All people of good will should join in this appeal and also keep careful track of how some rulers in the post-Soviet region and elsewhere are exploiting the pandemic rather than fighting it.