Azerbaijan: “Worrying clampdown on journalists and human rights activists”

Strasbourg, 29/09/11  – “Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly have encountered serious setbacks in Azerbaijan. Urgent measures must be taken to uphold these fundamental human rights” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, publishing today observations on the respect of human rights in Azerbaijan, as a follow up to his June 2010 report.

One year after the publication of the report, the Commissioner regrets to note that most of the recommendations he made as regards these areas have not been implemented. In some cases, steps taken by the authorities have even run counter to Azerbaijan’s human rights obligations. “One of my recommendations was to end practices of unjustified or selective criminal prosecution of journalists or critical opinion makers. However, resort to such methods has apparently not abated. Fabricated charges have been used to arrest and silence parliamentary candidates, journalists and members of youth groups. Such intimidation is inconsistent with the principles of a democratic society founded on human rights principles and the rule of law. Measures should be taken to release immediately all persons imprisoned because of views or opinions expressed.”

The Commissioner is concerned by information indicating that in the past months several national and international NGOs have faced difficulties in carrying out their activities freely in Azerbaijan. He is particularly worried about the recent demolition of a building where several human rights organisations were located. “Responsibility for this illegal action - which contravened a court order - should be established, and the persons affected should at the very least obtain adequate compensation for the loss of their property.”

Another source of concern relates to the wave of arrests of activists and political opponents in connection with protests held in Baku in March and April 2011. “These protests were sometimes dispersed with excessive force, and the work of journalists was hindered. Several persons were detained on grounds of violating public order. Six opposition activists were sentenced on 25 August 2011 for participating in ‘actions causing disturbance of public order’, following trials whose conformity with human rights standards has been called into question.”

The Commissioner therefore urges the Azerbaijani authorities to fully respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, in accordance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

“Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are indispensable principles of a democratic society. Effective measures must be taken by the Azerbaijani authorities to uphold them.”

Read the information provided by the Azerbaijani authorities concerning the observations of the Commissioner for Human Rights


Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Stefano Montanari, +33 (0)6 61 14 70 37; stefano.montanari@coe.int   

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