Azerbaijan in recent months has launched a clear assault against various civil-society activists and non-governmental organizations. While rough treatment of critics is nothing new in this energy-rich South-Caucasus country, one question remains unanswered: Why pick up the pace now?
Some observers link this behavior to two causes: The February resignation of Ukraine’s ex-President Alexander Yanukovich in response to mass protests, and the Azerbaijani government’s keen desire for a protest-free 2015 European Games, a Summer Olympics for European countries that is a pet-project of President Ilham Aliyev.
And so, in the best of Soviet traditions, the cleanup has begun.
The tactics appear to fall into two categories – criminal prosecutions and scrutiny of financial resources. Since June, several leaders of local NGOs, critical bloggers and opposition activists have been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms on various criminal charges, including alleged tax-evasion, hooliganism and possession of illegal narcotics.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku.