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Statement by PACE monitors after their visit to Azerbaijan

Strasbourg, 21.06.2017 - 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), visited Baku from 12 to 14 June 2017.

During their visit, the co-rapporteurs discussed respect for human rights in Azerbaijan. Welcoming the liberation of some of the so-called “political prisoners” in 2016 but expressing concern about new arrests in recent months, the co-rapporteurs expressed the hope that more persons would be released during 2017.

The co-rapporteurs continued their previous discussions with regard to the justice system in Azerbaijan. “The justice system needs to be truly independent, impartial and free from interference by the executive,” the co-rapporteurs stressed. They insisted on the key principle of the separation of powers and emphasised the importance of the oversight function of the parliament over the executive.

“The criminal justice system must be transparent, accountable and respect the presumption of innocence as well as the principle of equality of arms,” the co-rapporteurs said. They welcomed the on-going reform initiated by the President of the Republic’s Executive Order on “improvement of operation of penitentiary, humanisation of penal policies and extension of application of alternative sanctions and non-custodial procedural measures of restraint”, and they encouraged the authorities to quickly ensure its implementation. The co-rapporteurs were informed of the initiative by the Supreme Court in this regard. Issues related to pre-trial detention and alternatives to imprisonment were discussed. The co-rapporteurs also expressed the hope that a juvenile justice system would soon be put in place.

Discussions also focused on the necessary reform of the restrictive norms governing the operation and funding of NGOs and their implementation so as to allow for the functioning of a vibrant civil society and ensure respect for freedom of association. The co-rapporteurs reiterated their concerns concerning freedom of expression and media freedom in the digital area.

Referring to the death of Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Galandarov, the co-rapporteurs recalled the State’s heightened responsibility to protect the human rights of persons in detention and called for an effective investigation into the circumstances of his death in custody.

The co-rapporteurs reiterated their concern at the case of Mehman Huseynov and insisted on the need to truly investigate the case and to hold accountable those responsible. “It is of utmost importance to establish an independent, transparent and effective complaints system for allegations of ill-treatment by enforcement officials,” the co-rapporteurs stressed. They expressed their surprise and regret at his conviction for slander and at his current detention. They reiterated the Assembly’s call to speed up efforts towards the decriminalisation of defamation.

Another issue high on the agenda of the visit was that of the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, and in particular those affecting persons in detention, including Ilgar Mammadov. “It is of utmost importance to promptly ensure full implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which is a strict obligation to all members of the Council of Europe,” the co-rapporteurs recalled.

In Baku, the co-rapporteurs met with the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament, the Minister of Justice, the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, the Deputy General Prosecutor, the Chairmen of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, the State Security Service and representatives of the Ombudsperson office. They also met with representatives of civil society, persons recently released from prison, lawyers, and representatives of extra-parliamentary opposition parties.

In addition, talks were organised with persons currently held in detention, notably Ilgar Mammadov in Prison 2, Mammad Ibrahim in Prison 16, Said Dadashbayli in Prison 15, Mikail Idrisov in Prison 1, Ilkin Rustamzade in Prison 13 and Mehman Huseynov in Prison 14, as well as with family members of some prisoners.

The co-rapporteurs will present a preliminary draft report on the functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan at the meeting of the Monitoring Committee in September 2017, with a view to presenting the report during the October 2017 part-session.