Heidi Hautala "severely alarmed" about situation in Azerbaijan
Chairwoman of European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights Heidi Hautala sent on 18 April a letter to Minister of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan concerning reports over human rights violations in the country. She urged the authorities to halt the violent repression of demonstrators and tackle the prevailing impunity for attacks against journalists. Read full letter below.
Monday, 23 May 2011, by www.heidihautala.fi
Minister of Internal Affairs
Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Husu Hajiyev Street 7, 370005 Baku
18 April 2011
I am writing to you concerning the numerous reports I have received during the last few weeks over violent crackdown on protesters as well as attacks against journalists and human rights advocates in Azerbaijan. I am furthermore severely alarmed over the seeming impunity reigning over these abuses.
I must begin by expressing by deep concern over reports of the sudden closure of the Human Rights House Azerbaijan, following an order of the Ministry of Justice issued on 10 March. The House is a member of the International Human Rights House Network, having been registered in Azerbaijan in May 2007. To my understanding the Ministry has justified the closure with a breach by the organisation of the Azerbaijani Law on Non-governmental Organizations. In my view the reported breach to fail to complete a certain agreement with the authorities cannot be judged to be anything else than superficial. It also appears that the Human Rights House will be allowed to continue only such activities that are sanctioned by the state. Such measure by authorities of any state seriously undercut the right to freedom of assembly, as is enshrined in the article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Azerbaijan acceded on 13 August 1992.
While the organisation has resisted severe harassment during this year, I have understood that the decision to close the House might stem from a visit the members of the House undertook in January to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly to discuss the deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan. I am of this view since learning of the statement by the speaker of the Parliament of Azerbaijan considering the work of the organization “negatively affecting Azerbaijan’s international image” and calling for the government authorities to “take steps” in this regard. I am of course aware of the subsequent intrusion of police into the premises of the organization on 10 February after a press conference criticizing government was held in the premises. At that time the police already threatened for the place to be closed. It is most pressing that the order of 10 March by the Ministry of Justice be repealed without delay and no further harassment be directed towards the organisation or its members.
On another matter, I was deeply anxious to observe the rough handling of the protesters by the police at the rallies held on 11 and 12 March. The 5-8 day - administrative sentences passed around 16 March by the Azerbaijani courts on at least 30 protesters who were arrested at the rallies, are unacceptable and seem altogether politically motivated. Indeed, it appears that amongst those sentenced were Tural Abassli, leader of the opposition Musavat party’s youth wing were Elkin Aliyev, a reporter for Azerbaijan News Network. There are reports over arrests of other opposition and social media activists under seemingly fabricated charges.
All the more deplorable are the reports that in violation of the Azerbaijan Civil Procedures Code, the trials were held in secret. Since your authorities have taken upon themselves to adhere to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, I trust that they would agree with me on the importance of an open hearing, a fundamental element of the right to a fair trial as warranted under Article 6 of the Convention.
There are also several reports over excessive use of force by the authorities against peaceful protesters who gathered in central Baku on 2 April. It appears that rubber bullets, batons and tear gas were used, while around 200 people were detained. Such reports are most disturbing to those in the Europe who wish to see the relations between the EU and Azerbaijan to flourish and grow deeper.
It would seem that in the days following the 2 April protest, several journalists who had written about it or took part in the protests were abducted for several hours and pressuder to stop criticizing the authorities. In this regard I strongly condemning the reported abduction and beating on 26 March of youth activist and journalist Mr Seymur Khaziyev in Baku, who works for the opposition newspaper Azadliq. It seems that Mr Khaziyev has been threatened and beaten several times already in the past after he has published critical material of the authorities and President of Azerbaijan. In strongest terms I urge the Azerbaijani authorities to investigate the case promptly and independently and ensure that those responsible will be brought to justice. Similarly, Mr Ramin Deko, a journalist of the opposition newspaper Azadliq, the same paper Mr Khaziyev works for, and a participant in the aforementioned protest, was reportedly forced into a car on 3 April and taken to a village called Mashtaga, near Baku, and detained there for six hours. It seems that while he was not physically abused on this day, he was pressured to stop publishing critical material of the government. After he had reported the abduction the next day, he was beaten by two men for who said it was for not listening the warnings he had been given the day before. After the beating, the attackers threatened to repeat the assault.
Lastly, on 21 March reports over threats in prison against newspaper editor, Mr Eynulla Fatullayev emerged. It is believed that his life is in danger after his transfer to Prison No. 1 in Baku on March 2. Simultaneously, concern over his deteriorated health has been exacerbated over information of denial of access to medical care. He has reportedly lost considerable amount of weight while and he is also suffering from bronchitis as well as urinary tract and skin infections. It must be recalled here that it is the view of the European Court of Human Rights that the imprisonment of Mr Fatullayev is altogether illegal in the first place and that he must be immediately released. In line with its international obligations, it is required that Azerbaijan release Mr Fatullayev without delay.
There are many cases, too many cases indeed, to raise in this letter. While I consider each as important, I ask information concerning those mentioned. All those detained must be accounted for and while in detention they must be treated humanely. Without delay, they must be charged with internationally acknowledged crime or released. Any trial held must life up to the international human rights norms.
I all the same urge your authorities to immediately seize the persecution of civil society activists and journalists in Azerbaijan. Human rights defenders play vitally important role in all societies, similarly they are vital for the democratic development of Azerbaijan. In this vein, equally important is an increased effort that the authorities must make in honoring those international obligations they have voluntarily signed up to.
On 7 April the European Parliament adopted a resolution on review of the European Neighbourhood Policy where the Parliament reaffirmed that the Neighbourhood Policy rests, among others, on the values and commitments to democracy, rule of law, human rights, fundamental freedoms and good governance. Without respect for these principles, Azerbaijan can have no common future with its European partners.
I look forward to your reply.
Chairwoman of European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights