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Human rights situation in Azerbaijan ‘deteriorating’ ahead of election, says PACE committee

Strasbourg, 27.05.2008 – The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) today expressed great concern at the “deteriorating” human rights situation in Azerbaijan, undermining any efforts being made by the authorities to meet basic democratic standards in the forthcoming Presidential election.

In a draft resolution approved today during a meeting in Kyiv, the committee said restrictions on freedom of expression – including harrassment and intimidation of opposition journalists – and limits on freedom of assembly and association were “inadmissible in a Council of Europe member state”, and declared that the issue of political prisoners had not been resolved. It demanded the immediate release of opposition journalists Ganimat Zahidov, Sakit Zahidov and Eynulla Fatullayev, as well as five others seen as political prisoners.

The parliamentarians spelled out a “road-map” of other urgent steps to be taken ahead of the 15 October election, including:

• ensuring balanced election commissions and an efficient complaints procedure
• providing free broadcast time and print space in state media under equal conditions for political parties and blocs
• guaranteeing the opposition’s right to hold public rallies

Pointing out that all the ballots held since Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe had generally failed to meet basic democratic standards, the committee said the country cannot afford to fall short again.

On the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – which Azerbaijan has pledged to solve peacefully – the  committee said sustainable democratic development will be extremely difficult in Azerbaijan “as long as the country’s territorial integrity has not been restored”.

The resolution on “The functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan” is due to be debated by the plenary Assembly during its summer session (23-27 June 2008).

Provisional draft resolution