BAKU : Human Rights Watch warned Monday that the Azerbaijani government had ramped up attempts to stifle dissent in the run-up to presidential polls in October. Authorities in the oil-rich former Soviet state have jailed journalists and dozens of opposition activists on "trumped-up" charges and passed tough new legislation to curb freedom of expression, the New York-based rights group said in a new report.
"The number of arrests, the adoption of harsher laws, and extensive government efforts to stop and prevent peaceful public protests indicate a new concerted government effort to curtail political and civic activism in the country," the rights group said in a statement.
The 100-page report documented the cases of 39 journalists, critics and activists who have been arrested or harassed over the past 18 months.
Strongman president Ilham Aliyev, who took over in 2003 after the death of his father Heydar, a former KGB officer and Communist-era boss, looks certain to win a third term in October 9 polls.
Last week, Azerbaijan's election commission rejected the candidacy of the main opposition candidate, Oscar-winning film-maker Rustam Ibragimbekov, on the grounds that he still possesses joint Russian citizenship, in contravention of the country's election rules.
The opposition National Council of Democratic Forces has put forward Jamil Hasanli, a former lawmaker and historian, to run in his place.