Azerbaijan’s human rights crackdown is anathema to the EU values

061400081548
José Manuel Barroso
President of the European Commission
1049 Brussels, Belgium

Baku, June 14, 2014

Re: Azerbaijan’s human rights crackdown is anathema to the EU values

Dear President Barroso,

We are writing on the occasion of your visit to Azerbaijan, to urge you to convey the European Union’s determination to see concrete and tangible human rights improvements in Azerbaijan as part of the process of upgrading relations.

Two years ago, on 25 June 2012, the EU adopted its Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, in which it pledged to “place human rights at the center of its relations with all third countries, including its strategic partners” and “to throw its full weight behind advocates of liberty, democracy, and human rights throughout the world.”

We urge you to turn the abovementioned important pledges into concrete action.

A year ago, on 11 June 2013, the European Parliament adopted resolution on Azerbaijan, Case of Ilgar Mammadov which condemned any intimidation, arrest, detention or prosecution of opposition party leaders or members, activists, journalists or bloggers solely “because they have expressed their views and exercised their fundamental rights and freedoms in accordance with international standards.”

The resolution called on the Azerbaijani authorities unequivocally to respect freedom of the press and media, both online and offline, and to secure freedom of expression.

The continued systematic crackdown by the authorities in Azerbaijan on human rights defenders, journalists and peaceful opposition activists has dramatically worsened since that resolution was adopted.

Today, 30 human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and political activists are languishing behind bars on politically motivated charges in connection with freedoms of expression, assembly and association.

Blackmail, harassment, and unfair trials, detention and imprisonment are routinely used in Azerbaijan to control and curb the voices of human rights defenders, opposition activists, journalists, and any other individuals critical of the government.

Despite repeated calls by the international community, the authorities seem unwilling to change their stance by releasing detained and jailed critical journalists and activists, behaving in a tolerant manner, and refraining from the further use of fabricated charges.

We hope that in your negotiations with Azerbaijan’s government, you will convey an unambiguous message that respect for fundamental freedoms will play a key role in the European Union’s relationship with Azerbaijan. This is an important way to ensure that the EU’s relationship with Azerbaijan is predicated not only on energy and regional security interests but on broader concerns. By raising human rights concerns frankly and directly with Azerbaijan’s authorities, you would be demonstrating the EU’s profound concern for the people of Azerbaijan.

We urge you to press for the following concrete steps:

· Release all prisoners of conscience, including journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and opposition activists in prison or detention in connection with exercising their right to freedom of expression, and to stop using the courts to imprison critics and opponents.

· Take immediate, concrete steps to create an environment conducive to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. End all forms of impunity for violence against journalists and ensure that all cases are adequately investigated and those responsible are brought to justice. Reverse regressive amendments to freedom of information legislation aimed at limiting the activities of journalists and media outlets. Remove defamation provisions from the Criminal Code.

· Respect the rights to freedom of assembly and association and the right to religious freedom in legislation and in practice. Reverse draconian amendments to the freedom of assembly law providing for steep fines for organizers and protesters of unsanctioned protests. Repeal regressive amendments to the NGO law and other laws restricting the ability of independent NGOs to operate.

· Immediately begin a dialogue with civil society to discuss major human rights concerns.

We hope you will convey to the Azerbaijani President that these steps are essential to make Azerbaijan a more suitable partner for further engagement.

Sincerely,

Emin Huseynov

CEO and Chairman


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