BAKU: Human Rights Watch urges European bank to change strategy onAz

Human Rights Watch urges European bank to change strategy on Azerbaijan

Turan news agency, Baku
18 Feb 05

London, 18 February: The human rights situation in Azerbaijan
has deteriorated since the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development [EBRD] approved its strategy on Azerbaijan in 2002,
the well-known human rights organization Human Rights Watch [HRW]
has said in a press release.

The 2003 presidential elections plunged Azerbaijan into an acute
crisis, of which it has not been able to break out yet. Starting
from that juncture, the authorities stepped up pressure on the civil
society, restricted criticism and political activities.

The 2002 EBRD strategy on Azerbaijan maintains that there are many
opposition parties and NGOs in Azerbaijan. However, the atmosphere in
the country has “drastically changed” since then. The authorities have
severely restricted freedom of assembly and public protests, carried
out mass sackings of opposition members and persecuted everyone who
sympathized with the opposition.

The 2003 presidential elections were also marred by such serious
irregularities as disproportionate use of force against protesters,
use of torture against detainees, unfair trials which resulted in an
increase in the number of political prisoners and so on.

What’s more, the authorities stepped up pressure on the civil
society. The case of the Cuma mosque imam, Ilqar Ibrahimoglu, is a
glaring example of this. The authorities also refuse to register NGOs
they do not like such as the fund to develop democracy and protect
human rights.

The authorities vigorously restrict the activities of the mass media,
especially electronic ones, using all means to contain criticism
against the government and initiating physical violence against
opposition journalists.

The 2004 municipal elections confirmed once again that the authorities
do not intend to give up election rigging.

“All this calls into question the Azerbaijani government’s commitment
to the principles of democracy and pluralism mentioned in Article 1
of the agreement on setting up the bank,” the HRW statement said.

The organization recommends that the EBRD make changes to its
strategy on Azerbaijan in the light of the aforesaid evidence and
secure changes in a number of issues.

In particular, HRW reckons that it is necessary:

– to implement the recommendations listed in the report of the OSCE
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights after the 2003

– to cancel verdicts against the October prisoners [those arrested
over the 2003 post-election riots], which did not meet international
standards, and to release political prisoners;

– to carry out an independent investigation into reports of torture
and maltreatment in the post-election period and to bring the
culprits to book;

– to reinstate those who were fired for supporting the opposition in
their previous jobs;

– to investigate and punish the culprits of attacks on journalists;

– to decriminalize libel;

– to ensure freedom of assembly, including the right to stage
opposition rallies and so on.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress