PACE expresses concerns about freedom of assembly and freedom of expression

The co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Azerbaijan, Pedro Agramunt (Spain, EPP/CD) and Joseph Debono Grech (Malta, SOC), visited Baku from 26 to 28 November 2012 in order to assess the progress made by the country towards fulfilling its obligations and commitments to the Council of Europe.

They held talks with the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament, the Foreign, Interior and Justice Ministers, the President of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General, leaders of the political parties represented in Parliament as well as representatives of civil society. The co-rapporteurs also visited Prison No. 9 in Baku where they met Aliyev Mamedali Dilavar and a prison medical facility, where they met Shahin Hasanli.

During their meetings with the authorities, the co-rapporteurs expressed concern at the recently adopted amendments to the Criminal Code and the Administrative Code which have increased the penalties for organisers of and participants in “unauthorized” demonstrations. These amendments, combined with the authorities’ ongoing blanket ban on protests in Baku city centre, are likely to have a further negative impact on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the co-rapporteurs raised their concerns with regard to a number of human rights defenders, activists and journalists detained on criminal charges following trials whose conformity with human rights standards had been called into question by some NGOs. They urged the authorities to use all available legal tools to release those prisoners whose detention gives rise to justified doubts and legitimate concerns about freedom of expression as well as the independence of the judiciary in Azerbaijan. They also called on the authorities to release some prisoners on humanitarian grounds.

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