AZERBAIJAN: FORGOTTEN HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS UNFOLDS AT COUNCIL OF EUROPE’S DOORSTEP

April 12th, 2011
The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan (IGPA) has sent out a press release from Strasbourg, where the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) session is currently taking place.

The IPGA delegation (comprised of representatives from ARTICLE 19, the Human Rights House Foundation, Index on Censorship, and IRFS) urges the Council of Europe and PACE national delegations to immediately increase their monitoring of Azerbaijan’s compliance with its Council of Europe obligations and hold Azerbaijan accountable, in light of the continued deterioration of the freedom of expression situation.

Strasbourg 11.04.11: Inspired by pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, a recent wave of protests in Azerbaijan has resulted in scores of bloggers, journalists, civil society activists
and opposition political party members harassed, arrested and beaten. In a disturbing new step, the Azerbaijani authorities have launched criminal charges against a cyber activist based outside of Azerbaijan. Strasbourg-based cyber activist Elnur Majidli, who was involved in organising the protests via his Facebook page, is currently facing charges of inciting hatred.
 
“The human rights situation in Azerbaijan has reached a critical level. We are receiving almost daily reports of abuse against cyber activists, journalists and others in connection with exercising their
rights to freedom of expression and assembly. This raises the question: how many more need to be arrested or beaten before the Council of Europe takes action to hold this Member State accountable?
The credibility of the Council of Europe depends on such stewardship”, said Dr Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

Key areas of concern for the IPGA delegation include the recent wave of arrests of bloggers and activists in connection with the protests – some of whom face long prison sentences on the basis of politically
motivated charges; increased pressure on non-governmental organisations working on democracy and human rights issues, including the closure of the Human Rights House Azerbaijan; the recent abduction
and beating of two journalists in connection with their criticism of the authorities; and the continued wrongful imprisonment of journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who remains in jail despite a European Court of
Human Rights judgment ordering his release.

“We are deeply concerned by the arrests that took place before the scheduled protests, as this suggests that the authorities are trying to silence people before they even begin to exercise their right to freedom of expression”, said Emin Huseynov, IRFS Chairman.