The United States is troubled by the August 12th arrest of Azerbaijani opposition activist Natig Jafarli, the executive secretary of the opposition REAL Movement.
The United States is also troubled by the arrests of additional activists. The activists who have been arrested are secular democratic opposition figures, though the authorities are citing alleged ties to Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen to justify some of these arrests. The arrests come ahead of a national referendum on amendments to the constitution. The proposed amendments would lengthen the presidential term from five to seven years and introduce the posts of first vice president and vice president, which would be appointed rather than elected. Other proposed changes relate to restricting certain fundamental freedoms in vaguely defined circumstances.
The United States urges the government of Azerbaijan to submit the constitutional amendments for a joint Venice Commission and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights opinion.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Azerbaijan in May. In a statement they said that they “hold the view that human rights defenders, journalists, political and religious leaders continue to be detained under criminal or administrative charges as a way to impair the exercise of their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and to silence them.”
The United States, said State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner, “urge(s) the Azerbaijani government to release these and other activists incarcerated in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms, to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, and to allow an open and public dialogue about the direction of the country, particularly in the run-up to the planned September 26th constitutional amendment referendum.”