Amid Crackdown on Independent Media, Azerbaijan Calls for Early Election

Published: 08 December 2023

Ilham Aliyev official portraitAzerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev. (Photo:, Wikimedia, License)

By Kelly Bloss

Two weeks after authorities launched a crackdown against independent media, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced on Thursday snap presidential elections for February, triggering speculation that he was eliminating critical voices ahead of the vote.

Aliyev has ruled the oil-rich country since 2003, succeeding his father Heydar Aliyev. To secure his grip on power, two constitutional referendums were held: abolishing the restriction barring one person from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, and then in 2016, extending the term in office from five to seven years.

According to the 2016 changes, his fourth term as president would end in 2025.

The announcement followed a series of detentions of people linked to an independent media outlet.

On November 20, police arrested Ulvi Hasanli, the founder and executive director of Abzas Media. The outlet’s recent stories have focused on businesses owned by family members of the country's top officials.

Authorities searched the office of the news outlet and Hasanli’s home. According to his lawyer, police claimed to have found 40,000 euros (US$43,585) in the office.

Shortly after, officers arrested Hasanli’s deputy Mahammad Kekalov, editor-in-chief Sevinj Vaqifqizi, and reporter Nargiz Absalamova. The court ordered three to four months pre-trial detentions for them on “smuggling of foreign currency” charges.

Officers also summoned other journalists and collaborators, some of whom later reported that their bank accounts had been frozen.

“Among the blocked accounts is my salary card. In other words, my salary, which is my only source of income, has also been blocked,” Toghrul Valiyev, an economist who collaborated with Abzas Media, wrote on his Telegram channel and other social media accounts.

Chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli, wrote on his Facebook page that Aliyev wants to have the election without public discussion.

“Ilham Aliyev, in the environment of mass arrest and repression, isolation from the democratic world, and in a situation where there are no minimal opportunities for elections, has set up a sudden election spectacle and intends to extend his personal power,” he wrote.