16 U.S. Senators have written to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressing their concern about the diminishing space for civil society and the harassment of activists in Azerbaijan.
We write with growing concern on the diminishing space for both civil society and the freedom of press within Azerbaijan. In August, a number of us wrote to you expressing concern on the rising rate of politically motivated arrests. Since that letter, which highlighted the arrests and continued detention of Anar Mammadli, Leyla and Arif Yunus, and Intigam Aliyev, troublingly Rasul Jafarov and many more human rights activists and journalists have either been arrested or barred from leaving the country. Moreover, we have heard reports that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Azerbaijan is a member, was ordered to close its office and that representatives from Amnesty International, an international human rights organization, are barred from entering the country. Even more troubling is your government’s efforts to stifle the freedom of press in Azerbaijan, as witnessed by the closure of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) office and the imprisonment of investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova."
The initiative, led by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), was signed by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jean Shaheen (D-NH), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The letter also highlights Azerbaijan's poor ranking on international press freedom lists.
"Your government’s efforts to censor the media has earned the Committee to Protect Journalists’ ranking as the fifth most censored country in the world after Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. Moreover, according to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report, press freedom in Azerbaijan has been in decline over the past decade."
The senators, called on President Aliyev to "respect fundamental rights by allowing for a more tolerant environment for free media like RFE/RL and to immediately release those journalists, activists and civil society leaders currently imprisoned and detained. Doing so will remove an important obstacle to strengthened US - Azerbaijan relations."