«Свобода выражения мнений в Азербайджане по-прежнему находится под угрозой», - сказала Дуня Миятович, Комиссар Совета Европы по правам человека, в конце четырехдневного визита в Азербайджан. Напоминая о решениях Европейского Суда по правам человека, в которых подчеркивается тревожная картина произвольных арестов и задержаний правительственных критиков, активистов гражданского общества и правозащитников посредством преследований и неправомерного использования уголовного права в нарушение верховенства права, Комиссар подчеркнула, что « освобождение всех лиц, находящихся под стражей из-за высказанных ими взглядов, должно оставаться приоритетом». Она также повторила свой призыв декриминализировать диффамацию.
Кроме того, Комиссар подняла с властями вопрос о запретах на выезд журналистов, адвокатов, политических активистов и правозащитников, некоторые случаи из которых были установление нарушающими Европейскую конвенцию о правах человека. «Власти должны воздерживаться от непропорциональной практики произвольного введения запретов на выезд и немедленно отменить те запреты, которые противоречат праву выезда из страны».
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Another focus of the Commissioner’s visit was the situation of lawyers in Azerbaijan. The Commissioner noted that Azerbaijan has the lowest number of lawyers per 100 000 inhabitants in the Council of Europe area. This undermines access to justice, especially in rural areas where the number of lawyers is very low.
The Commissioner was informed of the Presidential Decree of 3 April 2019 providing for legislative, institutional and practical reforms in the justice system, which should lead to an improved access to justice. “In addition to these reforms, the government should step up its efforts to address effectively the shortage of lawyers in the country, in particular in the regions, including by ensuring that admission to the Bar Association is based on a transparent qualification process and objective criteria” she pointed out.
Stressing that the freedom of expression of lawyers is related to the independence of the legal profession, the Commissioner noted with concern a number of interferences with lawyers’ freedom of expression, including through the opening of disciplinary proceedings. “Lawyers should comply with ethical standards and be able to engage in professional activities without fear of retaliation” the Commissioner said.
The Commissioner also looked at the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Azerbaijan has a significant population of IDPs as a consequence of the unresolved conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the seven adjacent districts. The Commissioner commends important steps taken by the authorities to address human rights issues of IDPs, notably by providing durable housing. While in Baku, the Commissioner visited a newly constructed settlement in the Sabunchu district, as well as the old dormitories of the Technical University in the Yasamal district, where she could talk to a number of IDPs: “many people have expressed their wish to return to their homes; however, in the meantime it is important to ensure that livelihood opportunities are provided.”
In this regard, the Commissioner wishes to reiterate the importance of finally reaching a peaceful settlement of the unresolved conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, so that those IDPs who wish to return there may do so on a voluntary basis, in safety and dignity.
During her visit from 9 to 12 July, the Commissioner met with the authorities, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Elmar Mammadyarov, the Minister of Justice, Fikrat Mammadov, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vilayat Eyvazov, the Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Affairs in the Presidential Administration, Hikmat Hajiyev, the Prosecutor General, Zakir Garalov, the President of the Supreme Court, Ramiz Rzayev, and the Chairman of the State Committee for Affairs of Refugees and IDPs, Rovshan Rzayev. Other interlocutors included the Ombudsperson, Elmira Suleymanova, representatives of civil society, lawyers, as well as the Chair and members of the Bar Association.
The Commissioner also went to prisons where she met with the journalists Seymur Hazi and Afgan Mukhtarli. The Commissioner would like to express her appreciation for the fact that the visits have been facilitated by the Azerbaijani authorities.
The Commissioner’s report on her visit to Azerbaijan is forthcoming.