Azerbaijan is a republic with a population of approximately nine million and a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Majlis (National Assembly). In practice the president dominated the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. November 7 parliamentary elections did not meet a number of key standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for democratic elections. According to the final report of the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), election shortcomings included a deficient candidate registration process, limits on freedom of assembly and expression, a restrictive political environment, unbalanced media coverage of candidates, and problems in vote counting and tabulation. President Ilham Aliyev, the son of former president Heydar Aliyev, was elected to a second term in 2008 in a flawed election; constitutionally mandated presidential term limits were removed in a March 2009 referendum, which was also seriously flawed. Although there were more than 50 political parties, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, chaired by President Aliyev, dominated the political system. Ethnic Armenian separatists, with Armenia's support, continued to control most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the country and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The government did not exercise any control over developments in those territories. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
Restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association impaired political party activities and significantly limited citizens' right to change their government through peaceful elections. There were reports that torture and beating of persons in police and military custody resulted in at least seven deaths, and law enforcement officials acted with impunity. Prison conditions were generally harsh and in some cases life threatening. Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of individuals considered by the government to be political opponents, and lengthy pretrial detention continued. The government continued to imprison persons for political reasons, although authorities released some of these individuals during the year. Pervasive corruption, including in the judiciary and law enforcement, continued. Restrictions and pressure on the media and restrictions on political participation worsened. The government continued to restrict religious freedom in some cases. Cases of violence against women were also reported. Trafficking in persons remained a problem.