Why does Azerbaijan react so sharply to EU criticism?

Azerbaijan has sharply responded to the European Union's call for the release of individuals imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights. This call, issued by Peter Stano, the EU Service for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy's press secretary, on May 29, urges Azerbaijan to ensure humane conditions for prisoners, including access to healthcare and legal services.

The EU's statement highlights a worrying trend of increased arrests of independent journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists in Azerbaijan on politically motivated charges. Media outlets such as AbzasMedia, Toplum TV, Kanal 11, and Kanal 13, alongside political movements like Platform III Republika and various worker's rights groups, have faced harassment.

The EU's message comes ahead of the UN Global Climate Change Conference, scheduled to be held in Azerbaijan in November, emphasizing the importance of civil society participation.

Reacting to Stano's statement, Ayhan Hajizade, head of the Press Service of Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, criticized the EU's allegations as "far from reality" and filled with "outright falsifications." Hajizade argued that the detentions are related to criminal investigations involving illegal activities and are handled according to legal procedures. He contended that calls for the release of these individuals before legal proceedings are complete contradict legal norms.

Hajizade also criticized the EU for linking Azerbaijan's chairmanship at COP29 to political issues, arguing that it undermines cooperation on climate change.

Rufat Safarov, a human rights defender and head of the organization Line of Protection, commented on the issue in the program "Difficult Question." He noted that this is not the first time European institutions have urged Azerbaijan to respect fundamental rights. These calls have been accompanied by resolutions and documents, reflecting a renewed focus by the "collective West" on human rights in Azerbaijan.

Safarov described the EU's calls as justified, given the current political climate in Azerbaijan. However, he observed that Azerbaijani authorities continue to disregard these appeals, suggesting a deliberate distancing from European values and the Euro-Atlantic community. He predicted that increased international pressure and potential sanctions are likely, particularly concerning Azerbaijan's oil and gas contracts.

Safarov highlighted that 31 members of the U.S. Congress have already voiced support for sanctions against Azerbaijan. Recent resolutions by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recommend reviewing Azerbaijan's oil and gas agreements with the EU.

According to Safarov, the Azerbaijani government aims to eliminate independent media, resulting in a near-total absence of free press in the country. He warned that Azerbaijan is shifting from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, predicting that repression will intensify until all alternative voices and free thought are extinguished.


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