November 23, 2017 - 19:04 AMT
Rights groups urge EU to make Azerbaijan end crackdown

Leaders of European Union member states should press visiting Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to end the crackdown on critics and commit to concrete and sustainable human rights reforms, 37 nongovernmental groups said in a letter to heads of European Union member states.

On November 24, 2017, the heads of the 28 EU member states’ governments and of the six Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – will gather in Brussels for the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit.

“The EU has said Eastern Partnership countries should have vibrant civil societies and free media, but President Aliyev’s Azerbaijan doesn’t pass the test,” said Brigitte Dufour, director of International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR). “EU leaders should make it clear that there won’t be stronger ties with Azerbaijan until the government ends the crackdown on civil society and dissenting voices.”

Among the 20 Deliverables – or goals – for the Eastern Partnership by 2020, the EU has, notably, identified a vibrant civil society as a prerequisite for “democratic, stable, prosperous and resilient communities and nations.” In recent years however, Azerbaijan’s government has flouted these commitments by adopting and enforcing laws and regulations that severely restrict independent voices. The government has shut down independent media, and blocked the websites of media outlets that are now forced to operate from abroad. The government also has intimidated, harassed, and imprisoned independent journalists, human rights defenders, pro-democracy activists, and other members of civil society.

While more than a dozen unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders and government critics have been released since the end of 2015, their convictions stand, and some of them face travel restrictions and are unable to work without undue government interference.

Dozens of other activists remain behind bars, and the authorities continue to use politically motivated charges to jail government critics. Among them, Ilgar Mammadov, leader of the political opposition REAL party, has been in prison on trumped-up charges since 2013. The Azerbaijani government has refused to comply with a May 2014 judgment on his case by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which concluded that the government detained him without evidence to silence and punish him for criticizing the authorities.