Azerbaijan 'crackdown on dissent' condemned by Amnesty

Girl taken away in Baku after shouting "freedom". File photo The report accuses Baku of a "wave of intimidation and arrests"

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Amnesty International has urged the world community to act over continuing human rights violations in Azerbaijan.

The human rights group released a report which, it said, was "cataloguing a clampdown on dissent" since Arab-inspired protests began in March.

The report accuses Baku of jailing opposition members on "trumped-up" charges and harassing independent media in the oil-rich country.

The Azeri authorities have not publicly commented on the report's findings.

'Prisoners of conscience'

In its report The Spring That Never Blossomed: Freedoms Suppressed in Azerbaijan, Amnesty details what it calls "a wave of intimidation and arrests" after mass street protests in the former Soviet republic in March and April.

It says that 14 activists and members of opposition political parties have since been convicted on charges of "organising public disorder".

In all, the rights groups says it considers 17 convicted people to be prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty also blames the government in Baku for banning public protests, harassing independent bloggers and using criminal and civil defamation charges to silence critical media.

"The clampdown has sent out a clear and calculated message - that public expression of dissent will not be tolerated," said Natalia Nozazde, Amnesty's Azerbaijan researcher.

"The European Union and other international partners of Azerbaijan must take every opportunity to press for the release of the prisoners of conscience and to put an end to the suppression of peaceful protest, critical opinion and political opposition," she added.

Anti-corruption 'drive'

The Azeri authorities have so far not responded to Amnesty's report.

But Baku has been taking note of recent events in across the Arab world, the BBC's Caucasus correspondent Damien McGuinness reports.

They have been trying to pre-empt unrest before it happens and have said no demonstrations will be tolerated in the city centre, our correspondent says.

He adds that - in an attempt to stave off unrest - the government has recently launched a high-profile anti-corruption campaign.

Azerbaijan has vast oil and gas reserves, and its business-friendly secular government is seen in the West as an important bulwark against neighbouring Iran.

Because of its location, the country is also a key stopover for Western troops and supplies bound for Afghanistan.

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