A European Union official visiting Baku on June 16, 2017, should press President Ilham Aliyev to free unjustly imprisoned political activists, journalists, and other government critics, Human Rights Watch and the International Partnership for Human Rights said today.
The commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement, Johannes Hahn, should also urge Aliyev to lift restrictions on activists released from prison and reform laws that severely curtail fundamental freedoms.
Commissioner Hahn will be in Baku on an official visit as part of preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit, scheduled for November, and is set to meet President Aliyev, and other top officials, as well as nongovernmental groups. The EU opened negotiations for a new partnership agreement with Azerbaijan in February 2017.
“Commissioner Hahn should make human rights concerns a priority when he meets with President Aliyev,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “He should make it clear to President Aliyev that without an end to the authorities’ crackdown on dissent, there cannot be a genuine partnership between his government and the European Union.”
The visit comes a day after the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Azerbaijani authorities’ arrest of a journalist who had been kidnapped in Georgia and taken illegally to Azerbaijan, and calling for the release of activists arrested on politically motivated grounds.
In an urgent resolution adopted on June 15, the European Parliament condemned the abduction of the journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, in Tbilisi and his subsequent arrest in Baku, and urged the Georgian authorities to promptly and effectively investigate the case. The European Parliament also called on Azerbaijan to release Mukhtarli and others detained on politically motivated grounds, including political analyst, Ilgar Mammadov; another journalist, Mehman Huseynov; and youth activist, Ilkin Rustamzadeh.
Since February, the EU and Azerbaijan have been negotiating a new partnership agreement to enhance political and economic ties between them. The new agreement will replace the 1999 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which guided their bilateral relations in political dialogue, trade, investment, and economic, legislative, and cultural cooperation.
“Commissioner Hahn should impress upon President Aliyev that the pace of the negotiations over the new agreement, as well as the quality of the EU-Azerbaijan relations, depend on Baku’s fulfillment of its international human rights obligations,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR). “The calls made by the European Parliament, like releasing all unjustly jailed activists and amending repressive laws, should be first few steps on that road.”