While We’re Discussing Freedom…
Since today’s a conspicuous day for freedom, we should talk about freedom a little bit here in Azerbaijan. The Freedom House has a report out, highlighted in Foreign Policy, rating countries around the world on perceived freedom. Foreign Policy highlights The Least Free Places on Earth, the 20 least free countries in 2010, featuring such freedom-loving places as North Korea and Libya. Azerbaijan didn’t make it on to the list of the worst of the worst, narrowly escaping that heralded honor.
Yet, Azerbaijan did not escape the criticism of The Freedom House, attaining a freedom score of Not Free (Azeri: Azadlıqsız). That’s rough, Azerbaijan. Political Rights and Civil Liberties did not score well. From the report:
The government restricts freedom of assembly, especially for opposition parties. Legal amendments enacted in 2009 require NGOs to register their grants with the authorities and foreign NGOs to reach agreements with the government before opening offices in the country. Although the law permits the formation of trade unions and the right to strike, the majority of trade unions remain closely affiliated with the government, and most major industries are state owned.
The judiciary is corrupt, inefficient, and subservient to the executive branch. Arbitrary arrest and detention are common, particularly for members of the political opposition. Detainees are often held for long periods before trial, and their access to lawyers is restricted. Police abuse of suspects during arrest and interrogation reportedly remains common, with torture sometimes used to extract confessions. Prison conditions are severe, with many inmates suffering from overcrowding and inadequate medical care. In August 2009, a jailed editor died in a Baku prison after allegedly receiving inadequate medical care.
Some members of ethnic minority groups, including the small ethnic Armenian population, have complained of discrimination in areas including education, employment, and housing. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azeris who were displaced by the war in Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s remain subject to restrictions on their place of residence and often live in dreadful conditions.
Significant parts of the economy are controlled by a corrupt elite, which severely limits equality of opportunity. Supporters of the political opposition face job discrimination, demotion, and dismissal.
Traditional societal norms and poor economic conditions restrict women’s professional roles, and they remain underrepresented in government. Women hold 14 seats in the 125-seat parliament. Domestic violence is a problem, and there are no laws regarding spousal abuse. The country is believed to be a source and a transit point for the trafficking of women for prostitution. A 2005 law criminalized human trafficking, but the U.S. State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report kept Azerbaijan on the Tier 2 Watch List, citing only modest improvements.
If you weren’t aware, it looks like there are still a few things to work on here.