Azerbaijan: Stop the Escalated Crackdown on Critics

NHC strongly condemns the detention of prominent human rights defender, Anar Mammadli, on 29 April, and urgently calls the authorities to release him and drop the politically motivated charges against him.

Mammadli is head of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDС), a leading independent election monitoring group in Azerbaijan that has been observing elections in the country for more than 20 years.  

“Mammadli’s detention on smuggling charges falls squarely in a longstanding pattern of pursuing spurious charges against the critics of the Azerbaijan government”, said Berit Lindeman, Secretary General of the NHC. “His arrest reconfirms the necessity for a strong international reaction to stop the ongoing crackdown on independent civil society in Azerbaijan.”  

This is not Mammadli’s first arrest on bogus charges. In 2014, Mammadli was recognized as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International when he was sentenced to five-and-a-half-year in prison on dubious charges of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of office. When he was behind bars, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) awarded him with the prestigious Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. NHC had awarded the 2014 Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award to Mammadli and other political prisoners in Azerbaijan. In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) had also found his detention to be politically motivated to silence him. He was pardoned in March 2016 following the international pressure and condemnation. 

Since November 2023, the government has renewed its repression against its critics, with a dramatic deterioration in its already poor rights record. The authorities are engaged in a deliberate, vicious strategy to suppress dissent by imprisoning critics, curbing opposition political activity, restrict public criticism of the government policies, and exercise total control over independent organizations and critical media.  

Mammadli’s detention is the latest in a series of at least 20 arrests targeting journalists, NGO leaders, and human rights activists in past months. A similar wave of detentions took place targeting independent media outlets, Abzas Media, Kanal13 and Toplum TV, were raided by police.  

The authorities charged the detainees with various criminal offenses, including smuggling. They all are in remand prison awaiting trials.  

Authorities have also ill-treated some detainees, including with alleged beatings and threats against relatives, to coerce confessions or as punishment. Imran Aliyev, civil society activist and the founder of, arrested last week, said in his trial that he had been beaten and tortured with electric shocks to force him to sign documents and confess to the charges. 

At the height of the vicious crackdown, as the government is clamping down the country’s civil society, Azerbaijan is proudly preparing to host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP29 in November 2024 in Baku. It is a sharp disconnect in Azerbaijani government’s drive to boost its importance and image in the international platform and its brutal crackdown at home and failure to respect international human rights standards. 

These spurious charges and crackdown appear to serve only one purpose – to silence critical voices and activism in the country. More international action and pressure is needed, across Azerbaijan’s international partners and other multilateral organizations that have human-rights–related benchmarks which Azerbaijan is so blatantly breaking”, Lindeman said. 

Contact us


Berit Lindeman

Secretary GeneralEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 909 33 379Twitter: @LindemanBerit
Read article "Berit Lindeman"


Inna Sangadzhieva

Director for Europe and Central AsiaEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 97 69 94 58
Read article "Inna Sangadzhieva"


Dag A. Fedøy

Director of CommunicationsEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 920 54 309Twitter: @dagfedoy
Read article "Dag A. Fedøy"