Tied to a tree for failing to pay utility bills in Azerbaijan

Radio Free Europe reports on bizarre and troubling human rights violations in southern Azerbaijan's Naxchivan region, a region that locals call "North Korea." In addition to disappearing journalists who inquire about human rights violations, the authorities have taken to tying people to trees for failure to pay their utility bills. My father was born in a refugee camp in Azerbaijan, and I've always felt a distant connection to the region.

A series of abuses — some of them bizarre — have been documented in media reports.

According to the reports, local authorities have ordered state employees to perform manual labor on weekends as a condition for keeping their jobs. People who fail to pay utility bills have been seized and tied to trees outside police precincts until a family member or friend can come and settle the debt. Residents are forbidden from hanging laundry from their balconies and from baking bread at home. In a region where average salaries are approximately $130 per month, farmers are charged a steep tax for owning more than one cow or one sheep — $25 per cow, $10 per sheep.

Nasibova tells RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that local authorities are seeking to silence journalists like her and her husband who have reported on these abuses. She said she expects to be arrested soon.

"I think their main goal is to force us [independent journalists] out of Naxchivan," Nasibova says. "While they were searching our apartment, the police told us: 'We will succeed in silencing you. You will have to leave the region.' I think this process is related to our professional activities here."