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Presidential candidates threaten critics as Azerbaijani elections draw near

Just three months before Azerbaijan's presidential election, the major candidates have unleashed a war on their critics, in one instance calling them "traitors, betrayers and slave-minded people" and "provocateurs" who should be "hit in the mouth," the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) says.

As such, an incumbent president running for re-election, Mr. Ilham Aliyev has declared open season on his opponents, calling them "traitors, betrayers and slave-minded people." These remarks – that were delivered before tens of policemen during National Police Day – could be seen as a green light on repression and stand in sharp contrast to Mr. Aliyev's commitments to the Azerbaijani people, envisaged in Article 12 of the Constitution.

Furthermore, IRFS is dismayed that, instead of bringing to justice those responsible for crimes against the media – and contrary to his obligation to guarantee the safety of the Azerbaijani people – President Aliyev has given the culprits "high marks." Take, for example, the case of police officers Mr. Sahlab Bagirov and Orkhan Akhundzadeh, "famous" for their violence against journalists covering peaceful demonstrations. Said police officers have been appointed to higher ranks – major-general and lieutenant-colonel, respectively.

In addition, President Aliyev expressed his great satisfaction with the country's crimes statistics. IRFS notes that the authorities have failed to adequately investigate murders of journalists Elmar Huseynov and Rafig Tagi and no one has been brought to justice for the attacks.

"Silencing... journalists and dissent could jeopardize the legitimacy of [the] presidential election. This sort of remark does not bode well for the prospect of a free and fair election", said IRFS chairman and CEO Emin Huseynov.

A few days after being nominated as the single opposition candidate, Mr. Rustam Ibrahimbeyov, an Oscar winning screenwriter, declared he would 'hit in
the mouth" those who "write provocations, slanders and lies."

IRFS is shocked that Mr. Ibrahimbeyov, who has repeatedly declared his commitment to human rights and democracy, threatens and uses abusive language against the media.

"We once again remind that public figures should tolerate a larger degree of criticism than ordinary citizens. Not to mention a person who is about to run for presidency," IRFS's CEO said.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to ensure fundamental freedoms – particularly freedom of expression – in the run-up to the election and fulfill the country's commitments to freedom of expression undertaken before the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

IRFS further calls on international organizations to monitor the human rights situation in Azerbaijan ahead of the elections and demand that Azerbaijan lives up to its undertaken commitments.

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