Journalist Assaulted, Economist Detained Amid COP 29 Controversy in Azerbaijan

It is widely believed that Azerbaijani officials, such as presidential assistant Hikmat Hajiyev, are exploiting the COP 29 event to promote themselves through Western media, while Western governments and organizations refrain from commenting on their alleged misconduct. Europe Today


May 31, 2024

Reports from media and social network accounts indicate that a journalist and animal rights activist were assaulted in Gabala, a northern town in Azerbaijan. Concurrently, an economist was detained by police in Baku without any charges being declared against him.

The journalist, Fatima Movlamli, was reportedly seized by police and assaulted, with her mobile phone forcefully confiscated. This incident occurred after she announced on Facebook that she intended to create a media story about the pollution of a local river.

These incidents coincide with Azerbaijan hosting COP 29, a major global climate and environment event. Critics argue that some Azerbaijani officials are using the occasion to promote their own image and interests rather than addressing climate problems. Azerbaijan, an oil-based economy, is not known for prioritizing environmental issues.

The assault on the journalist and the detention of the economist occurred at the wake of the COP 29 event in Lachin, a border town with Armenia, recently recaptured following a conflict. The event’s main protagonist was Hikmat Hajiyev, a presidential aide facing multiple misconduct allegations. Hajiyev and his associates, including his wife Aygun Huseynova and deputies and foreign diplomats accredited in Azerbaijan, were prominent at the event. Huseynova, who holds a director position at SOCAR, the Azerbaijani state oil giant, has been embroiled in a scandal where it is alleged that her position was ensured by her husband Hajiyev using his influence. Reports suggest that both Hajiyev and Huseynova use their leverage over mainstream Azerbaijani media outlets to promote themselves, as these outlets are subservient to them.

Hajiyev has been criticized for using platforms like COP 29 for self-serving purposes, including gaining access to foreign media. The Observer faced criticism for giving Hajiyev a platform without mentioning serious allegations against him, such as misconduct, lack of integrity, and smuggling.

Notable among the guests at the Lachin event was Anne Bouillon, the French Ambassador to Azerbaijan, recently recalled to Paris for consultations amid deteriorating Azeri-French relations. Azerbaijan accuses France of supporting its adversary Armenia, while French officials have accused Azerbaijan of fomenting unrest in French overseas territories. The Azeri Herald contacted Bouillon regarding her recall and participation in the Lachin event. Meanwhile, French media has depicted Azerbaijan as a dictatorship, linking Hajiyev to media campaigns against other countries, including France.

Recently, Hajiyev was received by US officials at the Department of State (DoS), who declined to comment on the allegations against him. They described the meeting as routine diplomacy and noted that Hajiyev was urged to release unjustly arrested activists and media personnel in Azerbaijan. However, the continuation of detentions and assaults against journalists indicates that the DoS message to Hajiyev was ineffective. Hajiyev also faces allegations of misleading President Ilham Aliyev, whom he serves as an aide.

The European Union External Service also issued a statement expressing concerns that a recent pardon signed by Ilham Aliyev did not free any political prisoners. EU officials engaged with Hajiyev but remained silent on media inquiries, unlike the DoS, which provided partial responses to questions from the Azeri Herald.

The mixed signals from Western governments and some media outlets that have engaged Hajiyev despite the allegations against him has created “a confusing situation around Azerbaijan vis-a-vis the West and COP29,” according to observers.

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