After their fact-finding visit to Baku from 12 to 14 January 2017, the co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Azerbaijan by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC) and Cezar Florin Preda (Romania, EPP/CD), made the following statement:
“It is essential to give a renewed impetus to the reform processes and pursue dialogue with the authorities, in particular in the areas of the judiciary, media freedom and human rights, notably concerning the legislation on NGOs. We are ready to continue our co-operation with the Azerbaijani government and people to define and implement these reforms,” they said.
The co-rapporteurs discussed respect for human rights in Azerbaijan, especially the situation of so-called “political prisoners”, mainly based on Amnesty International’s list of prisoners of conscience. Referring to the release of some human rights defenders, political activists and journalists in 2016, the co-rapporteurs expressed the hope that this positive move would continue throughout 2017.
“While we considered specific ongoing cases of persons in detention during our visit, our discussions mainly focused on the reform of the justice system as a whole. It is important to address the root causes of the problem and to enhance confidence in, and the independence of, the justice system. There is in particular a need to look into the criminal justice system, with special focus on the use of pre-trial detention, the development of alternative sanctions and the creation of a separate juvenile justice system,” the co-rapporteurs said. They welcomed the readiness expressed by the Azerbaijani authorities to closely co-operate with the Council of Europe on justice reform. They reiterated the need for full implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.
The co-rapporteurs welcomed the readiness expressed by the authorities to amend the legislation on NGOs and its implementation in compliance with European standards. “The authorities should make full use of the Venice Commission’s expertise to reform the legislation on NGOs,” the co-rapporteurs said.
Discussions also focused on the development of the internet and social media, and issues related to freedom of expression and media freedom in the digital area. The co-rapporteurs are particularly concerned by the current detention of a number of young bloggers.
The co-rapporteurs also expressed concern at the alleged ill-treatment of Mehman Huseynov, Chairman of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, and welcomed the willingness expressed by the authorities to investigate the case and to hold accountable those responsible. “We insisted with the authorities that the investigation should be transparent and effective,” the co-rapporteurs said. They also insisted that they be promptly informed of the outcome of the investigation.
The co-rapporteurs held meetings with the President of the Republic, the Head of the Presidential Administration, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, the Deputy Prosecutor General, the Deputy Justice Minister and the Chairman of the Bar Association, as well as members of Azerbaijan’s delegation to PACE and members of parliamentary committees. They also met with representatives of civil society, journalists and representatives of extra-parliamentary opposition parties, as well as members of the international community.
Meetings were also organised with persons in detention, notably Ilgar Mammadov in Prison 2, Ilkin Rustamzade in Prison 13, Seymur Haziyev in Prison 17 and Said Dadashbayli in Prison 15.
The co-rapporteurs will present an information note regarding this visit to the Assembly’s Monitoring Committee at one of its forthcoming meetings.