HRW"s Rachel Denber: IlhamAliyev"s statement on political prisoners "deeply disappointing"

Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch's Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division, who specializes on countries of the former Soviet Union, criticized President IlhamAliyev's latest statement where he denied existence of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

During his January 15 visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, I.Aliyev painted a rosy picture claiming there are "no political prisoners" in his country arguing that a resolution on the existence of political prisoners in Azerbaijan was "voted down" by a majority of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly last year. He also noted "neither the CoE nor the European Parliament has yet agreed on the definition of a political prisoner."

The move came just hours after a senior Azeri opposition activist YadigarSadiqov has been sentenced to six years in prison on hooliganism charges, by a court in the southern city of Lankaran.

Speaking to TURAN's Washington DC correspondent, Denber called Aliyev's last week statement "deeply disappointing."

"I would expect a leader on the level of IlhamAliyev to take the time to demand from his staff full information about allegations about politically motivated prosecutions that have cast a very dark cloud around his presidency. Then they would have to tell him that in at least 23 cases Azerbaijani criminal justice authorities have used flimsy pretexts to arrest and prosecute political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders critical of the government," she said.

While all 23 are behind bars, most in pretrial custody, the pretexts have been varied-hooliganism, tax evasion, drug possession, and the like, and evidence presented in court and in prosecution documents very weak.

"These cases are not only individual tragedies for each of the detainees-the cases are disgracing Azerbaijan's criminal justice system, and this is something Aliyev should care about," she emphasized.

For Denber, it is "equally disappointing" that I.Aliyev used the Council of Europe as a cover, referring to the fact that the PACE voted down a resolution on political prisoners.

"His staff should have told him that at the very same session of PACE, the monitoring committee expressed concern, in its general report and resolution on Azerbaijan, about cases of politically motivated prosecutions," she added.

As for I.Aliyev's argument that the Council of Europe "has no definition of political prisoner," Ms. Denber said, "but in fact it does:"

She provided a link to the Resolution 1900 by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) where the organization set out the criteria, recalling that the definition of "political prisoner" was elaborated within the CoE in 2001 by the independent experts of the Secretary General, mandated to assess cases of alleged political prisoners in Armenia and Azerbaijan in the context of the accession of the two states to the organization.

The 3 October 2012 resolution reaffirms PACE support for these criteria, summed up as follows:

A person deprived of his or her personal liberty is to be regarded as a 'political prisoner':

a. if the detention has been imposed in violation of one of the fundamental guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols (ECHR), in particular freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and association;

b. if the detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any offence;

c. if, for political motives, the length of the detention or its conditions are clearly out of proportion to the offence the person has been found guilty of or is suspected of;

d. if, for political motives, he or she is detained in a discriminatory manner as compared to other persons; or,

e. if the detention is the result of proceedings which were clearly unfair and this appears to be connected with political motives of the authorities." 

The PACE resolution can be found below. 

http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/XRef/X2H-DW-XSL.asp?fileid=19150&lang=en 

Denber's interview to TURAN comes ahead of Human Rights Watch's announcement of annual report,which will be presented in Berlin today. 

The report,which will emphasize the responsibility to protect ordinary citizens in particular autocratic countries, will also cover the latest human rights violations in Azerbaijan. 

 

AlakbarRaufoglu

Washington, DC

 

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