Strasbourg, 1 October 2013. In the first substantive discussion on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan at the Council of Europe since the defeat in January of a key resolution at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), today a group of Azerbaijani and international human rights groups hosted a side event titled “Pre-election crackdown: human rights in Azerbaijan”. The event took place just eight days ahead of the country’s 9 October presidential election, and seven months ahead of Azerbaijan assuming the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in May 2014.
Around 70 participants attended the event, including MPs from Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and the UK. The event was organized by Baku-based Human Rights Club and Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), International Media Support, Platform London, and the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
At the event, the Human Rights Club released a landmark new document, revealing that there are now 142 cases of politically motivated detention and imprisonment in Azerbaijan. A report launched by IRFS put the situation of political prisoners in context by detailing Azerbaijan’s failure to implement its broader Council of Europe obligations since joining the body in 2001.
The event co-sponsors, Polish MP Robert Biedroń, Estonian MP Mailis Reps, and UK MP Paul Flynn, called for increased attention by PACE to ensure Azerbaijan’s accountability for fulfilling its human rights obligations. Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks stressed his concern regarding ongoing violations of the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, as well as cases of detention and imprisonment connected with the exercise of these rights.
Human Rights Club Chairman Rasul Jafarov pointed to ongoing violations of fundamental freedoms, in contradiction to Azerbaijan’s Council of Europe obligations, noting that “no one forced Azerbaijan to become a member of the Council of Europe.” IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov underscored that freedom of expression was particularly under attack, eliminating the chances of a fair and free election on 9 October.
Emma Hughes of Platform London made a case for why those with energy interests should also care about human rights issues in Azerbaijan, noting that the new Euro-Caspian mega pipeline would increase European dependence on an undemocratic and unstable regime. Latvian MP Lolita Čigᾱne spoke up during the discussion portion of the event, emphasizing that PACE’s vote in January against the resolution on the political prisoner situation in Azerbaijan was “an act that no one should be proud of.”
The Azerbaijani delegation neglected to attend the event, as did PACE monitoring co-rapporteurs for Azerbaijan Joseph Debono Grech and Pedro Agramunt.
The Human Rights Club, IRFS, International Media Support, Platform London, and the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights note that Azerbaijan’s failure to implement its Council of Europe obligation is particularly serious in light of Azerbaijan’s upcoming chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. These organizations call on PACE to redouble its efforts to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its Council of Europe obligations, starting with the immediate and unconditional release of all persons detained or imprisoned for politically motivated reasons.