PACE: No doubt Azerbaijan has political prisoners problem

“This problem is due to structural and systemic causes.”

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has urged the Azerbaijani government to recognize the problem of political prisoners and thus help consider the alleged cases under the independent and impartial judiciary system.

“There can no longer be any doubt that Azerbaijan has a problem of political prisoners, and that this problem is due to structural and systemic causes”, PACE stated in a resolution adopted on 30 January on political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

Drafted on the basis of the report by Torhildur Sunna Aevarsdottir to examine the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, the PACE resolution marked a number of individuals as “political prisoners” based on the Assembly's definition. The document specifically refers to the cases of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, and leaders of the Muslim Unity Movement Taleh Bagirzade, Abbas Huseynov and Said Dadashbeyli, who are recognized as political prisoners by human rights activists.

PACE appealed Baku to “solve the problem of political prisoners once and for all.”

French parliamentarian Bernard Fournier recalled that Azerbaijan does not comply with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and human rights activists are imprisoned for their activities.

The head of Azerbaijan's delegation at PACE, Samad Seyidov, replied, stating, “the statement that there are political prisoners in Azerbaijan is a heavy accusation and we will never admit it”.

In turn, Evarsdottir believes that the unresolved issue of political prisoners will put Azerbaijan’s membership in the Council of Europe at risk. “None of us want this. Azerbaijan has its place in the Council of Europe. But this country must respect its obligations,” said Aevarsdottir.

The resolution was adopted by a majority of 82 votes, with 28 against. Recommendations were also adopted in connection with the resolution by around the same ratio.

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Parliamentarian Fazil Mustafa

Fazil Mustafa, the general assembly deputy, told Turan news agency that the resolution is not of great importance.

"The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is not an institution that respects its principles. Russia was removed from PACE due to Crimea´s occupation and then later restored to the body.”

According to him, such resolutions are intended to impose pressure on Azerbaijan.

Fazil Mustafa also said that Azerbaijan has always demonstrated its relevant attitude towards these issues.

“Of course, there is no concept of political prisoners in the country. The Council of Europe demanded the release of some individuals as political prisoners and they were also released. Now, who exactly do they mean under this label? Any separatist who wants to break up the country? It is funny. They are separatists rather than political prisoners,” Mustafa noted adding that the PACE resolution does not sound serious.

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Samad Seyidov, head of Azerbaijan’s delegation at PACE

While building up ties with the Council of Europe, it is necessary to think seriously about national interests, Samad Seyidov, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE was quoted as saying by APA news agency.

According to Seyidov, the Council of Europe is not constructive in its approach.

“As a result, a report full of insults, slander and lies has been offered. We have observed not only the report, but also the biased approach proposed in the appendices by PACE lawmakers. Their approach is a means of pressure on Azerbaijan,” Seyidov said adding, “This pressure creates more problems for the Council of Europe rater than for Azerbaijan […]”

Human rights defender Intigam Aliyev welcomed the adoption of the resolution labeling it, “an end to the 2011 PACE infamy on political prisoners in Azerbaijan.”

According to him, the government in this area is about to fall into disrepair, and the time when deputies were being taken for granted is already in the past.

Aliyev said Baku opposes the report but the protests are not massive, which is also an indication of the government's insecurity.

“Therefore, even though the government will not fully resolve the problem, it is certain that it will take steps to mitigate it. There is no doubt that most political prisoners will be released with the pardon decrees. But as I mentioned generally, the complete elimination of the problem of political prisoners is impossible.”

The human rights defender also said that the problem of political prisoners in Azerbaijan is a problem that is part of the system.

“There will always be political prisoners in a country where there is no division of power, political pluralism, independent media, courts, civil society, or free elections. It may happen to increase or decrease at some point, but without political prisoners, it is impossible.”

Nine years ago, another report on the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan was discussed at PACE. At that time report could not muster enough votes to be passed. However, Azerbaijani officials and parliamentarians rejected the claims.

There is no unified list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. According to some human rights defenders, there are at least 120 political prisoners jailed.

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