Azerbaijan’s longstanding repression of independent voices has reached crisis levels, even as it nears the end of its six-month chairmanship of the Council of Europe. The situation puts to the test the council’s standing as Europe’s foremost human rights body, the Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
“The Azerbaijani government’s systematic crackdown on human rights defenders and other perceived government critics shows sheer contempt for its commitments to the Council of Europe,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To let the relentless repression go unanswered threatens the very credibility of the institution.”
Azerbaijan assumed the six-month rotating chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in May 2014, despite years of suppression of criticism and failure to adhere to the commitments it undertook when joining the organization. But instead of cleaning up its record and addressing longstanding concerns, the government stepped up its crackdown, lashing out at human rights defenders, journalists, and social media activists with spurious criminal charges and convictions.
The Human Rights Watch urges the the Council of Europe’s leadership, including its secretary general, the president of its parliamentary assembly, and the human rights commissioner, as well as its member states, to call on the Azerbaijani government to:
- Release, immediately and unconditionally, all those wrongfully imprisoned and drop the politically motivated cases against them;
- Stop the ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation against independent organizations and allow them to work unimpeded; and
- Undertake, without further delay, long-overdue human rights reforms, including the many outstanding commitments Azerbaijan pledged to fulfill when joining the Council of Europe.
“Azerbaijan’s brutal silencing of its critics while at the helm of the Council of Europe is an assault on the institution and everything it stands for,” Gogia said. “The council’s leadership should condemn Baku’s behavior in the strongest possible terms and make clear that there cannot be business as usual until those imprisoned on politically motivated charges are freed and the crackdown brought to an end.”