Azerbaijan. The political repression of the opposition continued during the year. The authorities closed a mosque in Baku in March, where the imam was an open critic of President Ilham Alijev.
Following a lengthy trial, in October seven leading opposition politicians were sentenced to imprisonment for involvement in the violent riots following the 2003 presidential elections. According to CountryAAH, the total population in Azerbaijan is 10,139,188 people in 2020. The OSCE expressed concern over the severe penalties.
The riots in 2003 targeted the regime, which was accused of electoral fraud when Ilham Aliyev was proclaimed superior victor in the presidential election. According to a report released in 2004 by Human Rights Watch, the regime, in connection with the election, conducted mass arrests devoted to stifling the opposition and the media.
In May, President Aliyev warned that his country was ready to go back to war with Armenia. The statement came on the tenth anniversary of the ceasefire between the two countries that closed in 1994, when Azerbaijan had lost the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Aliyev said he was trying to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict, but said his army was prepared to “liberate” the area. Despite negotiations in September between the presidents of the two countries, the peace process seemed to stand still.
In its conclusion, in October 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on the Azerbadjan authorities to suspend their “suppression of public associations and ensure that they can operate freely without risk of abuse against their legitimate activities”.
Azerbadjan was further pressured in the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh when the outbreak republic in February 2017 conducted a referendum on a constitutional amendment. 90% of the votes cast supported the change, which meant that the area changed its name to the Republic of Artsakh. Azerbadjan condemned the vote and issued arrest warrants against the members of the European Parliament who had participated as election observers. OSCE who is the official mediator in the conflict stated that the voting result would not change the status of the area. Other countries condemned the vote. The de-facto republic remained internationally unrecognized.
In March 2017, President Aliyev conducted a state visit to France. met with a number of large French companies. He took the opportunity to criticize a number of companies for having activities in Nagorno-Karabakh, which according to. he was in violation of international law. France was interested in orders for Azerbadjan, and President Holande declared at a press conference afterwards that the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh is “unacceptable”. He urged the US and Russia to participate in resolving the conflict. In his address to the UN General Assembly in September, Aliyev criticized that the four UN Security Council resolutions of 1993 on unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian forces had not yet been implemented.