Women’s rights campaigners in Azerbaijan are being forced to endure reprisals and harassment, a leading human rights organisation has warned.
Amnesty International said authorities in the country are wielding a “smear campaign” to gag and defame activists with more than two dozen women targeted in the crackdown.
At least 15 women are said to have been harassed by the security forces - which have the support of the government - in the Caucasus region nation in the last two years.
This troubling state-sanctioned abuse spans from being blackmailed through social media accounts as well as being accused of being “bad wives” or “bad mothers” and having private conversations leaked to the public - with the latter sometimes being sexual, the charity said.
Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty’s South Caucasus researcher, said: “This is part of a deliberate strategy to muzzle critics of the government and suppress women’s activism.
“By shaming and blackmailing these women activists, the authorities believe they will renounce their lawful activism or pressure their partners to do so.
“Amnesty is calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure gender-based violence and discrimination targeting women activists in Azerbaijan is halted immediately. They must conduct a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into each incident, as well as into other violations of their human rights, such as their right to privacy.”
Amina Rustamzade, who is married to an activist and ex-prisoner of conscience Ilkin Rustamzade, tried to kill herself in July last year after facing attacks and harassment, including enduring repeated threats to expose highly personal and private details about her life.
While an escort site displayed her profile and disclosed her personal contact details.
Women who helped arrange the International Women’s Day march in the Azberjani capital of Baku this year have also been clamped down on. The social media accounts of Gulnara Mehdiyeva, an activist behind the demonstration, were hacked - with private photos of her appearing on the internet.
The authorities forcibly disrupted the march protesting against gender-based violence and femicides in Baku on International Women’s Day in March and at least 20 peaceful protesters were detained.
Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programmes at a human rights NGO called Freedom House, said: “For the third year in a row, the Azerbaijani authorities have cracked down on the International Women’s Day march, rejecting organisers’ permit application, detaining activists, and shutting down public transportation in a brazen violation of the freedom of assembly.
“The voices of women must be heard in Azerbaijan, where domestic violence, femicides, and other grave forms of gender-based violence are commonplace, and where female activists and journalists are harassed and ignored, with no effective national policy response from the government.”