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Rights Awareness Campaign In Azerbaijan Empowers Citizens

Traffic police in Azerbaijan
Traffic police in Azerbaijan
You suddenly notice the blue and red flashing lights in your rearview mirror and then hear the wail of the siren. You’re about to be pulled over by the traffic police. Now what?

As with many other interactions with authorities in Azerbaijan, a stop by the traffic police can be a dicey situation, as it carries the potential for extortion and bribery. In Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, Azerbaijan ranked 127 out of 175 countries surveyed, proof of widespread perceptions of illegal or unethical practices in the public sector. In addition to the prevalence of extortion and corruption, a lack of concrete knowledge about individual rights can leave people vulnerable when dealing with authorities.

As part of its “Know Your Rights Campaign,” RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service has launched a series of easy-to-read infographics presenting citizens’ basic rights and responsibilities in a set of situations. The first in the series, “15 Facts About Drivers And Traffic Police,” defined what drivers and police are and are not allowed to do during a traffic stop. The second, “Dealing With Government Inspectors,” provided 10 practical tips for business owners to ensure that inspectors adhere to the law.

RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service infographic explaining motorists' rights wehn dealing with the traffic police.
RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service infographic explaining motorists' rights wehn dealing with the traffic police.

“This is an extremely popular subject,” said Azerbaijani Service Director Kenan Aliyev. “People know that we have laws, but they don’t know what their rights are. Usually the laws are written in legalese and people don’t know which aspects they need to be aware of in their daily lives.”

All of the information in the graphics is taken directly from Azerbaijani law, as published on the Justice Ministry’s website. RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Radio Azadliq, has encouraged its readers to print out the small graphic and keep it with them in the car or at work for quick reference. For readers who want to know more, the link to the full text of the law is also provided.

Aliyev says the service will produce one new infographic per week through 2014. Forthcoming topics include “10 Things You Should Know Before You Open The Door For A Policeman” and “10 Things You Should Know Before You Visit the Doctor.”

“Healthcare services are provided by the government and they’re supposed to be free, but doctors sometimes refuse to operate on patients unless they’re given cash,” Aliyev explained. “The same thing happens with education, and really all aspects of life in Azerbaijan. We’ll touch on all of them.”

The graphics have been immensely popular; the first in the series got over 700 likes on Facebook and was one of the top stories on the Azerbaijani Service website. Readers were engaged and had lengthy discussions about their rights on the website’s comments section and on Facebook. Many commenters expressed gratitude, but others expressed the cynicism that can infect a society without transparency in the public sector.

“The only way to deal with police is to bribe them:-)” wrote one reader. “Thank you for this research, but I still doubt that inspectors will back off when we show them this in Azerbaijan,” wrote another.

Aliyev said the idea to convey the content in the form of an infographic was in response to a trend the service has observed on social media. Infographics are easy to share and are a perfect vehicle for simplifying complex laws into a handful of key points.

“It’s easy to do, it’s useful, and it’s all verifiable and fact-based,” said Aliyev. “We’re not creating anything new because it’s all written in the law. We’re just highlighting things and telling people, ‘know your rights. It’s written in the law and you have to exercise your rights.’”

--Emily Thompson