The Azerbaijani government has renewed its vicious crackdown on critics and independent groups. The European Union and international financial institutions have a rare opportunity to insist on human rights reforms, as Azerbaijan actively seeks financial and other partnerships to offset a recent economic downturn. 

The government has made a concerted effort to undermine civil society. Human Rights Watch found that in 2016, the authorities used false, politically motivated criminal and administrative charges to prosecute political activists, journalists, and others. The government has built a restrictive legal and policy framework to paralyze the work of independent groups. Lawyers willing to defend critics have faced retaliation and disbarment. Although the authorities released several human rights defenders and others in early 2016, many others remain in prison or fled into exile.