Sunna Aevarsdottir, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteur on ‘reported cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan’, has concluded her three-day fact-finding visit to the country calling the government’s attitude “constructive."
Aevarsdottir visited the capital city of Baku last week to meet political prisoners including Taleh Bagirzade, the leader of a group called the Movement for Muslim Unity, and his deputy Abbas Huseynov, who were sentenced to 20 years in prison. The rapporteur allegedly met investigative journalist Afghan Mukhtarli, who was kidnapped in Georgia in 2017 and forcibly taken to Azerbaijan where he was detained in custody and another detainee, political prisoner Said Dadashbeyli in Baku.
Calling the Azerbaijani government’s attitude towards political prisoners “constructive”, Aevarsdottir said she is encouraged by “willingness of all those whom [she] met to discuss this difficult and sensitive problem and to work together with the Council of Europe in order to find solutions.”
“In addition to the four detainees, I was also able to meet with a range of government critics, civil society activists, journalists, lawyers and NGO representatives, as well as members of the local diplomatic community,” she said adding the trip has been vital for her upcoming report that she is planning to submit to the Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee by the end of this year.
During the visit, Aevarsdottir met with former prisoner Ilgar Mammadov, chairman of the ReAL Party. Mammadov said their meeting has been a follow-up to their latest meeting held in Strasbourg in June. Mammadov also added that they spoke at length about the report that would be prepared by the rapporteur. The full coverage of political prisoners in the country and the implementation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decisions in the country were the main focus of the discussion, Mammadov said.
“We also emphasized that all the tools that are available for the political parties, civil society and international organizations must be used for this purpose," Mammadov said adding, “until the report is released in January, I think the release of all political prisoners does not seem convincing. But this year's experience has shown that there is some progress and we need to work harder."
Aevarsdottir has also met with a group of human rights activists in Baku. One of them, Ogtay Gulaliyev, also known as the head of the Committee against Torture, has said the rapporteur already had a good understanding of the rise in lawyers and high renewal rates of judges in Azerbaijan.
However, Gulaliyev says, “this update does not end the issue of political prisoners in the country.”
“Because the problem of political prisoners comes from the very essence of the government; a group of political prisoners are freed, and a new group is arrested,” he was quoted as saying by RFE/RL.
According to lists prepared by local human rights activists, there are nearly 120 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. However, the authorities do not accept the idea of political prisoners in the country. They say the so-called political prisoners have been held accountable for their activities.