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COVID-19: Rapporteurs outraged by the Azerbaijani government’s reliance on the pandemic to justify political repression

Assembly rapporteurs Sunna Ævarsdottir (Iceland, SOC), Sir Roger Gale (United Kingdom, EC/DA) and Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC)* today responded to reports that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, in his speech to mark the Nowruz holiday, had proposed the “isolation” of the country’s political opposition as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am astonished and appalled by the Azerbaijani government’s shameful exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic to launch yet another crack-down on the country’s beleaguered political opposition”, said Sir Roger Gale. “It beggars belief that any head of state would abuse a public health emergency in order to tighten his grip on power.”

“The language used by President Aliyev to describe his country’s legitimate political opposition as a traitorous ‘fifth column’ is profoundly undemocratic”, said Mr Schennach. “It is precisely in times of public emergency that political pluralism and responsibly exercised freedom of expression are most important, so as to allow open debate on policy and the free flow of information amongst the public.”

In response to the reported arrest and detention for ‘hooliganism’ of leading opposition politician Tofig Yagublu, Ms Ævarsdottir said that “everything I have heard so far suggests that the case against Mr Yagublu has been fabricated and he has once again been made a political prisoner. It looks very much as though the Azerbaijani government is launching yet another round of concerted political repression. This would not bode well for the country’s future standing in the Council of Europe.”

* Respectively rapporteur for follow-up to Assembly Resolution 2322 (2020) on reported cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and co-rapporteurs for Azerbaijan of the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)