Authorities in Azerbaijan are seeing red after a democracy-watchdog activist they jailed received an international award from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Granting the Vaclav Havel prize for civil society activism to Anar Mammadli constitutes outside pressure on an independent state, Ali Hasanov, a key aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, declared on September 30.
In a familiar line, Hasanov attributed the award to contrivances by Azerbaijan’s enemies. He said that such steps serve to “support the fifth column underwritten by certain foreign forces” [a frequent euphemism for enemy-neighbor Armenia] and that Azerbaijan is free to arrest those who violate the law. “It is quite obvious that certain organizations, acting behind the façade of human-rights advocacy, are not at all independent and follow very concrete instructions,” he declared, the pro-government APA news agency reported.
Azerbaijan, however, currently chairs a committee within one of the "certain organizations," the Council of Europe, the continent ’s main human-rights body, and the award put the CoE in an awkward place. (Azerbaijan holds the seat until November.) Many critics argue that the 47-nation forum is not the place for Azerbaijan, which recently has detained scores of journalists, civil-society leaders and activists who criticize the government.
“The Azerbaijani government’s systematic crackdown on human rights defenders and other perceived government critics shows sheer contempt for its commitments to the Council of Europe. To let the relentless repression go unanswered threatens the very credibility of the institution,” wrote Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus researcher for Human Rights Watch, in a recent letter from Strasbourg.*
The letter includes a long list of jailed Azerbaijani activists aside from Mammadli, the director of the Baku-based Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, and a source for EurasiaNet.org stories in the past.
Another j’accuse came from the European Stability Initiative think-tank. “Recent months and this award have also made it obvious that just how far the Committee of Ministers, PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe] and the Secretariat have diverged from their original mission to protect and ensure human rights,” the group said.*
Its chairmanship of the CoE’s ministerial committee, however, has not spared spare Azerbaijan a bashing. On September 30, PACE’s Committee for Legal Affairs and Human Rights called for the release of jailed civil society activists, including Leyla Yunus, who has said she's been beaten by prison-guards.
It is unclear if the organization, with its workings often contingent on unanimity, can get anywhere with such complaints about the Azerbaijani govenrment, however.
PACE is not the only international body with criticism, however. As EurasiaNet.org has reported, the European Parliament on September 18 called for the EU to impose sanctions against Azerbaijan if it does not clean up its rights-record.
That may not lead to any immediate action, but some form of momentum appears to be building in official European circles for holding the Aliyev administration more strictly to account.
**Both Human Rights Watch and the European Stability Initiative have received funding from the Open Society Foundations. EurasiaNet.org is financed under the auspices of the Open Society Foundation-New York City's Eurasia program.