Azerbaijan has seen increased restrictions on democratic rights and freedoms since the parliamentary elections of November, 2010, which have affected both citizens and the civil society activists who have come to their defense. These restrictions were the subject of today’s roundtable hosted by the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety.

Anar Mammadli, the coordinator of Defense Alliance for Political Freedoms, cited the criminal case opened against human rights defender Vidadi Isgandarov and the demolition of the office of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) led by Leyla Yunus.
According to Mammadil, the pressures on democratic freedoms, in addition to the violation of property rights, are in conflict with the philosophy behind the Eurovision Song Contest, which will be hosted by Baku next May. Mammadli said that about 20 000 families have experienced rights violations over recent years. This figure could hit 60 000 by 2013, he claimed. He called on the authorities to put an end to impunity and compensate citizens.
The rights defenders talked about holding a solidarity vigil at the sites of the demolished offices of IPD and other 2 NGOs.
Human Rights Club Coordinator Rasul Jafarov expressed concern over a dangerous trend – statements by politicians on the need to impose restrictions on social networking sites.
He also criticized Azerbaijan’s refusal to grant a visa to Cristoph Strasser, the PACE rapporteur for political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
IRFS Director Emin Hueynov brought up the newly tightened visa regime. Now, foreign citizensare required to provide evidence of payment for a 3-night stay in a hotel. “One of the problems here is that there are only few hotels in Azerbaijan that are able to receive electronic payment in advance. These kind of measures jar with the principles of Eurovision, and the mission of the European Broadcasting Council,” said Huseynov.
The human rights defenders called for visa liberalization, in order to ensure that journalists and tourists are able to visit Azerbaijan.

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