Watchdogs Urge EU Representative to Speak Up Over Azerbaijan Crackdown
International groups are asking Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union’s representative for human rights, to challenge Azerbaijani authorities this week over the jailing of a number of political activists and journalists.
Lambrinidis begins his visit to Azerbaijan today, Feb. 23.
In a statement released by the non-governmental organizations Human Rights Watch, the International Partnership for Human Rights, and Front Line Defenders, the groups contend that the Azerbaijani government has clamped down on public debate by harassing journalists, raiding their offices, and passing laws to restrict the funding of independent media outlets that receive foreign support.
Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch, said the EU response to the crackdown had been “tepid at best,” adding: “No EU official should visit Baku without publicly insisting on the immediate and unconditional release of jailed activists and without making it clear that, until Azerbaijan halts repression, it can’t hope for closer EU ties.”
Among the reporters in custody in Azerbaijan is OCCRP and Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who has been detained since December.
Earlier this month, she was hit by a slew of new charges, including running an illegal business, tax evasion, embezzlement, and abuse of power. If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in prison. Ismayilova denies the charges, and watchdogs have called them politically motivated.
Today, a judge found Ismayilova guilty on a charge of slander from an earlier case, fining her 2,500 Azerbaijani manat (about US$ 2,417). Her lawyer says he will appeal the case. She remains in detention.