Azerbaijan should urgently improve the protection of freedom of expression
Strasbourg, 29/06/10 – “Freedom of expression is curtailed in Azerbaijan today - major improvements are needed” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, presenting today his report on the country. Following a visit carried out in March, the report focuses on freedom of expression and association, conduct of law enforcement officials, administration of justice, and contains some observations on the visit to the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan.
The Commissioner is particularly concerned about cases of threats, harassment, and violence against journalists or human rights activists which have not been properly investigated. “The authorities must better protect, from any sort of violence, journalists and others who may express critical opinions. The perpetrators of such acts should be adequately punished.” He further stressed that “anyone imprisoned because of views or opinions expressed, including Eynulla Fatullayev, Emin (Mili) Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizadeh, should be released immediately”. Furthermore, the Commissioner underlines that decriminalisation of defamation is needed to bring the legislation in conformity with European standards.
While recognising the need to promote professionalism of journalists, the Commissioner has reservations about the existence of a black-list of racketeering newspapers, published by the Press Council, and invited it to reconsider this practice. Furthermore, he recommends that the authorities allow BBC, Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and Europa Plus radio stations to resume broadcasting on FM waves.
The Commissioner acknowledges the willingness of the authorities to take steps to facilitate the registration of NGOs, but is concerned about recent legislative changes which could limit the freedom of association. “Authorities should refrain from controlling activities of NGOs in an unduly strict manner. Requirements and procedures for registration, including re-registration of religious communities, must be simple in order not to deter associations from registering.”
As regards the issue of misconduct by law enforcement officials, the Commissioner calls for an independent and effective investigation of all allegations of torture and ill-treatment with the imposition of appropriate sanctions. Commissioner Hammarberg is also concerned about the non-enforcement of domestic court judgments. “Adequate measures should be adopted to ensure the implementation of final judgments within a reasonable time and the respect of fair trial guarantees.”
As regards the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan, the Commissioner emphasises that involuntary placement in psychiatric institutions should be allowed only by court decisions issued on the basis of a medical assessment. In relation to the events that took place in Bananyar, the Commissioner recalls that any allegations of ill-treatment must be effectively investigated, in accordance with international standards.
The response of the Azerbaijani authorities is attached to the report.