Azeri protests highlight political risks of oil price fall


Azerbaijan is to impose a 20 per cent tax on taking money out of the country, as the oil-dependent government scrambles to respond to a currency collapse that has triggered protests, The Financial Times reports:

Azerbaijan, which relies on oil and gas for 95 per cent of its exports, three-quarters of government revenues and 40 per cent of gross domestic product, abandoned its dollar peg in December, triggering a 32 per cent collapse in the value of the manat. ….The dramatic decline in the country’s economic conditions has sparked several protests since the start of the year, with 55 protesters arrested last week in Siyazan, a small town north of the capital Baku.

Since January 11, residents of several districts across Azerbaijan have taken to the streets in frustration at soaring unemployment and price hikes, the Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines blog reports.

Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime has been forced to cut taxes on essential foods after widespread protests over deteriorating economic conditions that have seen the prices of essentials such as flour and bread rise steeply in recent months, RFE/RL adds:

Troops were called in to disperse demonstrations in several cities this week, with security forces using tear gas against stone-throwing protesters and arresting dozens of people including opposition activists.

Oil money and well-equipped security forces have long ensured public loyalty to President Ilham Aliyev, but after months of rising prices people turned out on the streets last week to protest, Reuters reports:

Dragged down by the slump in world crude prices, Azerbaijan’s manat currency has fallen by about a third against the dollar in the past 30 days, sparking public protests that could be a taste of unrest to come for other oil-funded economies.

It has prompted Aliyev to consider such measures as tightening currency controls, helping banks, and selling off state assets. But the anger is mounting….Police have mobilised police in large numbers to stop such protests spreading in a year when Aliyev has courted publicity by securing the right to host the international Formula 1 motor race.

Military units were deployed in Siyazan to prevent a march by demonstrators, and at least two demonstrators there were detained, eyewitnesses told RFE/RL:

In the district of Lankaran, police detained several more protesters, including a local chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party (AXCP), Nazim Hasanli, and the chairman of the local branch of the opposition Musavat party, Iman Aliyev. Both men were reportedly found guilty of taking part in an unsanctioned protest and sentenced to one month in jail.

Authorities in Azerbaijan have managed to contain protests over declining living standards – for now. But with government finances in a precarious state, and the economy rapidly deteriorating, government critics are wondering how long the lid can remain on discontent? Eurasianet analysts Durna Safarova and Islam Shikhali ask.

There have been a series of protests across the country over price hikes, devaluation and deteriorating economic conditions, which were dispersed by the police.  Dozens of people have been detained, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting adds.

“The state is actually wreaking havoc with its restrictive measures since it essentially stimulates a stir around the dollar,” said economist Natiq Jafarli.  “In addition, we can see with our own eyes that it does not have an anti-crisis strategy.  We have become convinced of that because of the quick cancellation of orders issued earlier.”

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney [right] has offered to take the case of jailed Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova to the European Court of Human Rights, RFE/RL reports. Ismayilova, an RFE/RL contributor, and her lawyer are said to be considering Clooney’s offer.

The International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI) today held an expert discussion to launch a new report, Justice Behind Bars: The Persecution of Civil Society in Azerbaijan:

The report highlights the abuse of the criminal justice system during the current unprecedented civil society crackdown in Azerbaijan, in the course of which dozens of human rights defenders, journalists and other critical voices have been imprisoned and key human rights organizations forced to suspend their activities. The report, “Justice behind bars: The persecution of civil society in Azerbaijan” provides a detailed analysis of the criminal cases against seven leading civil society figures: Anar Mammadli; Rasul Jafarov; Intigam Aliev; Leyla and Arif Yunus; Emin Huseynov; and Khadija Ismayilova [left].

Keynote address: Emin Huseynov, Journalist

Ramute Remezaite, Attorney, European Human Rights Advocacy Center
Kirill Koroteev, Legal Director, Human Rights Center Memorial
Emin Milli, Director, Meydan TV
Gulnara Akhundova, Programme Manager, Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (ECCA), International Media Support
Simon Papuashvili (Moderator), Project Coordinator, International Partnership for Human Rights


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