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The persecution of Azerbaijani oppositionists is escalating.

Following the arrest of Gubad Ibadoglu, the European Parliament is calling for an investigation into sanctions against Azerbaijan. This comes at a time when the number of political prisoners has more than doubled in the past year, and the democracy movement Democracy 18 has chosen to shut down its operations due to persecution.

While Azerbaijan’s offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh continues, persecution of the Azerbaijani opposition is also ongoing. Large parts of the already marginalized anti-war movement are being targeted, and members of civil society are being arrested.

On September 13th, the European Parliament passed a hastily prepared resolution condemning Azerbaijan for the arrest of Gubad Ibadoglu. The prominent activist was arrested in late July while visiting his homeland of Azerbaijan to care for his sick mother. Several human rights organizations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, accuse Azerbaijan of fabricating charges against him.

Now, the European Parliament joins the ranks calling for sanctions against regime representatives who have committed serious human rights violations, as outlined in the resolution.

Days before the resolution was passed by the parliament, the democracy movement Democracy 18 announced its decision to shut down its activities. This decision comes after members of the movement were persecuted by Azerbaijani authorities over the summer. Many of them were arrested and sentenced to short prison terms for participating in regime-critical protests or expressing criticism on social media.

A report from the Institute for Peace and Democracy from July also revealed that the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan had increased from 99 to 204 in a year. The arrests of Democracy 18 members occurred after the report was published.

The arrests escalated from mid-June when large protests broke out in Soyudlu in western Azerbaijan. Villagers protested against the expansion of a gold mine, which was said to have devastating consequences on the nearby environment.

Images of Azerbaijani riot police attacking elderly traditionally dressed women stirred strong emotions in the country. At least three journalists were reportedly arrested and beaten by the police during the events. In addition, several activists who expressed criticism on social media were arrested.

Since then, Soyudlu has been cut off from the outside world. In a press release from September 19th, Reporters Without Borders accuses the Azerbaijani regime of blocking all access to what is happening in the village.

In addition, anti-war activists organized a seminar in Baku in mid-August. During the event, Azerbaijani intelligence officials appeared to document the proceedings.

Shortly thereafter, the organizers were publicly labeled “traitors” in regime-controlled media. In addition to the event participants, Gubad Ibadoglu’s children, who live in exile abroad, were also publicly shamed.

Azerbaijani political scientist Bahruz Samadov argues in a text for Eurasianet that the anti-war movement in Azerbaijan is a response to “anti-hegemony” against the militarism that characterizes Azerbaijani society.

In his text, he describes how the anti-war movement has been largely overlooked by the regime, but the changes that have occurred over the summer show that the regime has become aware of the anti-war activists.

In addition to being exposed in the media, several parliamentarians from the ruling party have accused anti-war activists of being “anti-Azerbaijani.” Blankspot has previously reported that one of them, Kamal Jafarov, who is also the chairman of the Council of Europe’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, has taken the lead in publicly shaming the activists.

Linked to the case of Gubad Ibadoglu, individuals associated with him have also been harassed. His children have been publicly shamed on social media, and individuals connected to his activities have been arrested.

One of the co-authors of the resolution on Gubad Ibadoglu, Swedish Social Democratic MEP Evin Incir, demands in her address that the EU Commission raises the issue of political prisoners in all negotiations with Azerbaijan.

“We call on the Special Representative, EEAS, and member states to raise the case of Gubad Ibadoglu and similar cases in all bilateral meetings and negotiations on future partnerships or other agreements with Azerbaijan.”

Reports from the 19th of September states that several anti-war activists were called to the Azerbaijani secret service, due to their posts in social media during the ongoing escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Top Image: Anti-war activists publicly shamed in Azerbaijani regime media.