Public threats of the president I. Aliyev addressed to the opposition did not wither on the vine. The Popular Front Party reported about arrests of its 12 activists. The economic crisis, which results from the pandemic and oil prices drop, already hit the banking sector. Meanwhile, the international negotiations moved into the telephone mode.
12 Opposition Members Arrested
The opposition is still under pressure. On 13 April 2020, the leader of the opposition Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli stated he was under pressure personally. According to Karimli, in the evening, when he was to give an online interview, his access to the Internet was blocked. He said that his mobile and landline phones, as well as his wife’s mobile communications, were blocked. A few days later, Ali Akhmedov, the deputy chairman of the ruling New Azerbaijan party, wrote on Facebook that there are “two viruses” in Azerbaijan: COVID-19 and the “political virus”.
The APFP claims that president’s Ilham Aliyev’s public calls against the opposition on March 19 and April 14 led to the arrest of twelve party activists.
On the other hand, on 23 April 2020, the Plenum of the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan reviewed cases of the leader of the opposition Republican Alternative Party (ReAl) Ilgar Mammadov and human rights activist Rasul Jafarov, overturned the convictions and awarded both with compensation for non-pecuniary damage for being imprisoned.
The Plenum of the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan reviewed cases of the leader of the opposition Republican Alternative Party (ReAl) Ilgar Mammadov and human rights activist Rasul Jafarov, and overturned the convictions
The opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov spent five years and six months in prison, and he will be paid a compensation of AZN 234 thousand (€127 thousand). Ilgar Mammadov was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of organizing protests in the Ismayilli district. His case is unique because it was his complaint after which for the first time the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found a violation of the rights of the applicant from Azerbaijan under Article 18 of the European Convention, noting the political motives for the persecution. On these charges, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe caused proceedings for assessing non-compliance by the member state. The Grand Chamber of the ECHR ruled that Azerbaijan did not fulfil its obligations to the Council of Europe.
Human rights activist Rasul Jafarov spent a year and eight months in prison and was awarded a compensation of AZN 57.4 thousand (€31 thousand).
Banking Sector under Attack
A temporary tax regime will be introduced in Azerbaijan due to a significant change in economic conditions as a result of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The Tax Code is proposed to be amended with such changes. The proposals envision the taxpayers’ exemption from paying full land and property taxes for the whole of 2020 in areas directly affected by anti-coronavirus quarantine.
Tax holidays and benefits will be provided in such spheres as domestic transportation of passengers by cars, operation of hotels and similar facilities, tourism and travel agencies’ activities, transportation and delivery of goods on orders, catering, culture, sports, and educational services.
The crisis caused by the coronavirus and oil prices drop have already shown themselves in the banking sector. On April 30, the Baku Court of Appeal declared two banks of Azerbaijan, Atabank and Amrahbank, bankrupt and launched the bankruptcy procedure. The results of the process of returning funds to depositors will be known within a month. However, what will happen to the funds of legal entities is unknown yet. More than 1,500 employees of these banks will become unemployed. Dozens of Amrahbank employees protested the same day the bank went bankrupt. They demanded wages for the last month. It should be noted that in March, the President Ilham Aliyev assured the citizens that during the quarantine period companies would not leave employees without work.
At the moment, another bank of Azerbaijan, AGBank, has also found itself in a difficult situation. Approximately 30 thousand of its customers cannot withdraw their funds. And more than 1,400 bank employees turned to the country’s leadership for assistance.
An unexpected loan for Ukraine?
On 23 April 2020, the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Ukraine Elmar Mammadyarov and Dmitry Kuleba held a telephone conversation. The ministers discussed the results of the official visit of the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky to Azerbaijan (on December 16-17, 2019). They expressed their confidence that the agreements reached during this visit will contribute to deepening cooperation between the two states, in particular, in the economic sphere, as well as in the GUAM framework.
It should be noted that on the eve of this discussion, the President Zelensky’s speech on a $300 million loan agreement from Azerbaijan became a surprise for the local politicians and experts. Up to this point, the Azerbaijani society had no information about this agreement and its terms.
Ilgar Mammadov (left) and Rasul Jafarov (right). Photo by Fargan Novruzov