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Azerbaijan’s Abysmal Rights Record Under Scrutiny

Council of Europe Urges Azerbaijan to Start Overdue Reforms

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe meets in Strasbourg, France, October 2017. © 2017 Council of Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) – one of Europe’s foremost human rights bodies – adopted two reports and resolutions urging, once again, that Azerbaijan’s government cease its unrelenting crackdown against critics.

Despite international pressure, Azerbaijan has continued a campaign of persecution against human rights defenders, journalists, and civic and political activists, harassing and imprisoning dozens on politically motivated bogus charges.

The first resolution is a periodic assessment of Azerbaijan’s progress on meeting the human rights and democracy commitments it made when it became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001. This time the report rightly flags repressive actions against independent media and advocates of freedom of expression, and the government’s failure to implement a number of judgements from the European Court of Human Rights. Top among them is the case of Ilgar Mammadov, a prominent political activist jailed since February 2013, in defiance of a European Court judgement deeming his detention unlawful and repeated demands by the Committee of Ministers for his release.

The second resolution is a follow up to Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 2014. As the report details, instead of cleaning up its record and addressing longstanding concerns, the government stepped up its crackdown. Some convicted critics were released in 2016, but Azerbaijan let their convictions stand and many of them continue to face restrictions on their work and travel.

Both resolutions make detailed recommendations to Azerbaijan, urging Baku to “put an end to systematic repression of human rights defenders, the media and those critical of the government,” and to “release all […] imprisoned on politically motivated grounds.”

The two resolutions come at a time when the Assembly’s integrity has been under fire. According to media reports, several PACE members, at least one specifically tasked with reporting on Azerbaijan, accepted funds from the Azerbaijani government and went on to minimize the government’s human rights violations. They have since stepped down from their posts, a positive move for the Assembly.

Azerbaijan’s leadership will likely be quick to dismiss the criticism, as they did during debates at the PACE plenary meeting today, but instead they should do what’s right – release Ilgar Mammadov, and others wrongfully imprisoned and allow journalists and nongovernmental groups to work without fear of retribution.

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