“The targeting of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan must stop” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, at the end of a two-day visit to the country. “The urgency of this visit was dictated by the arrest and detention over last summer of virtually all the civil society partners of my Office, which makes it increasingly difficult to work on human rights issues in Azerbaijan”, he explained.
The Commissioner had already highlighted important deficiencies in the protection of freedom of expression, assembly and association in Azerbaijan in a report he published last year following a visit in May 2013 and in an update he published in April this year, following a worrying deterioration of the situation in the above areas. “The recent repressive measures go in exactly the opposite direction from what I have recommended” he regretted.
A number of the recent arrests and detentions are related to shortcomings in the NGO (non-governmental organisation) legislation and the way it is implemented, a concern which the Commissioner had highlighted in his 2014 Observations, where he stressed that the cumbersome requirements for registration inevitably drive a number of NGOs to operate on the fringe of the law. “Legislation should not make human rights work impossible. In particular, those who have made good faith attempts to have their organisation or grants registered, without success, should not be punished”.
Commissioner Muižnieks also raised with the authorities the issue of rapid execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, notably in the case of Ilgar Mammadov – a judgment which recently became final. This judgment, which found that the applicant has been detained for purposes other than having committed an offence, puts the broader issue of selective justice in the forefront. “If the authorities want to demonstrate their commitment to Council of Europe values, they should deal with this and similar cases as a matter of priority.”
In another worrying development affecting Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Court of human Rights, the authorities reportedly seized the files of cases pending before the Court in their investigations of well-known lawyer Intigam Aliyev.
In the course of his visit, the Commissioner had a frank and constructive discussion with the authorities, including the Minister of Justice, Fikrat Mammadov, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mahmud Mammad-Guliyev the Prosecutor General, Zakir Garalov. He also met the Ombudsman, Elmira Suleimanova. In the course of his visit, he went to Kurdakhani detention center, where he talked with Anar Mammadli, Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev. In addition, the Commissioner met with family members of prisoners, defence lawyers and some civil society representatives.