Monitoring Committee of PACE discusses issue on Azerbaijan

AzerTAc interviews the chief of department on work with law-enforcement bodies of Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan Fuad Alasgarov


- As we know, a document on Azerbaijan was discussed at the meeting of Monitoring Committee within the framework of PACE spring session on April 23-24. Could you inform us on this document?
- The Monitoring Committee meeting discussed a report on Azerbaijan`s fulfillment of commitments to the CoE. The document was prepared by the co-rapporteurs of the Committee on the results of their visit to our country in January-February current year. Adoption of the report is expected at the next meeting of the Committee.
As part of the visit, the co-rapporteurs held meetings with the representatives of various government bodies, non-governmental organizations and political parties. They also visited refugees and IDPs camps and one of the penitentiary institutions.
I want to note that the document adopted by the co-rapporteurs underlined the excellent level of cooperation with the Azerbaijani authorities and the delegation of the Milli Majlis to the PACE, which is another evidence of our openness and political will for such cooperation. The co-rapporteurs highlighted a number of achievements related to the development of democratic institutions in the country. For example, they estimated adoption of National Action Programme for more effective protection of human rights and freedoms in the Republic of Azerbaijan, approved by the Decree of the President on December 27, 2011. The co-rapporteurs stressed that the national programme of action provides adoption of the law "On ensuring the rights of persons held in detention places", the measures aimed to investigate the cases of violation of the rights of these persons, the trainings for the employees of law enforcement bodies and judges.
- What are the other issues reflected in the national programme of action?
- The National Programme of Action (NPA) is a concept, a large-scale document, which is part of a coherent set of measures taken in the area of protection of human rights in our country. It ensures improvement of the legislative base, specific measures aiming to ensure more effective protection of the rights of certain groups of the population.
The program covers a number of elements including continuation of the process of country`s accession to the international documents in human rights field, development and adoption of new legislative acts regulating various aspects of the life of society. The program also features issues on strengthening to combat corruption, increase transparency of state bodies` activities, further development of electronic services rendered by state bodies to the population, and others. A number of educational, scientific-practical activities in human rights sphere, including cooperation with international organizations will be realized within the programme.
- What other positive elements have been noted in the co-rapporteurs` report?
- PACE co-rapporteurs welcomed the reduction of the required number of members of the political party from 5000 to 1000 people in the latest version of the draft amendments to the law "On political parties". I want to note that the other international organizations believe that the relevant law meets international standards.
The co-rapporteurs also particularly welcomed the decree of the Azerbaijani President on pardon signed on December 26, 2011 and March 15, 2012, noting that Jabbar Savalan, Ruslan Bashirli, Elnur Israfilov and others, whose cases had been on the agenda of some NGOs, were pardoned and released. They also welcomed the fact that on the decision of court Elshan Hasanov was conditionally released early, and noted that at present, the courts examine the issue of conditional early release of two more participants of the 2011 April riots - Elnur Majidli and Arif Alishli, whose names are specified in the lists of a number of civil society organizations.
In respect of other convicted persons from the lists of NGOs, co-rapporteurs expressed their conviction that the case of the relevant persons should be resolved in the framework of the monitoring procedure on the basis of establishment of political dialogue. The co-rapporteurs highlighted that the NGOs had not agreed on lists of prisoners, and that the lack of clear criteria or internationally accepted definition for such persons also prevents the achievement of agreement on this issue.
The question of criteria, or rather their absence, directly was connected with the problem of "political prisoners" and the activities of the PACE rapporteur on this issue Mr. Christoph Strasser.
For many years, Azerbaijan consistently adheres its position that there is a need to improve clear criteria for the definition of the term "political prisoner" while preparing report for any country, which would be applied by all COE member countries, and not only to one separate state. We believe that any other approach is unacceptable, because it would mean existence of double standards in CoE`s activities. This position is shared by many PACE members, experts of international law and representatives of local and international NGOs. Strasser`s position, who prepared a report on Azerbaijan, in the absence of an internationally accepted definition of "political prisoner" is unjustified and gives rise to doubts as to his impartiality with respect to our country.
- What other questions were in the focus of co-rapporteurs` in the report?
- The co-rapporteurs welcomed two rallies of the opposition organizations, held on March 17 and April 8 in Baku. The document underlines that the rallies had been agreed with Baku Executive Authority and took place without any serious incidents.
I want to note that another rally, which was also agreed with Baku Executive Authority, was held on April 22, and took place in the area allocated for the relevant purposes. The conduct of these meetings is another evidence of the fact that the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly does not cause any problems if it is implemented in accordance with the law.
To hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, assemble together with others peacefully and without arms, informing the relevant government bodies is the right of everyone. It is stipulated by the Constitution's Article 49. The exercise of this right is regulated by the Law "On freedom of Assembly". I want to remind that in the recent past, the provisions of this law have been improved; the project of amendments was sent for expertise to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, and it was noted in the final report that the new law fully complies with European standards.
However, the recently mentioned rallies demonstrated unconstructive, demagogic character of the radical opposition, its absolute failure. The "leaders" of the opposition have not made any reasonable proposals to address the issues that they raise. Only offensive and populist slogans and calls were sounded. No one has been able to realize their program, which even does not exist. A total criticism of the authorities is their only tactics. Their activities do not attract, and may not attract any significant number of people - they are more like "crowd for a narrow circle of persons".
- What is the PACE co-rapporteurs`s attitude to the situation of mass media in Azerbaijan?
- The report stated that more than 4700 media outlets, including 40 daily and more than 200 weekly or monthly Newspapers, as well as 50 news agencies, a large number of national, regional and cable TV channels, more than 30 Internet service providers operate in Azerbaijan without any pressure from the authorities.
The co-rapporteurs also touched on the incident connected with journalist Khadija Ismayilova`s video. They underscored that the government also condemned the spread of this video, and the General Prosecutor`s office opened a criminal case on the complaint of the journalist.
- By the way, how is the investigation of the relevant case going on?
- The investigation is still underway, so it is early to make final conclusions. A number of witnesses were questioned, the apartment was inspected, persons who visited her and resided were installed, and other investigative actions were undertaken as part of the investigation.
- Many international NGOs raised the question of demolition of houses in Baku. Were the co-rapporteurs touched on the relevant issue in the report?
- The co-rapporteurs discussed the issue of the demolition of buildings in the framework of the work on the improvement of the center of Baku as part of their visit to Azerbaijan. The document says that the majority of the people were satisfied with the amount of the proposed compensation, but some are dissatisfied with the amount of the check or the proposed apartments. The report does not exclude the possibility that some human rights defenders, in particular Leyla Yunus, make excessive demands and subsequent complaints to organize provocations with the aim of attracting international support.
In general, the facts testify in favor of the version of provocation. Persons, whose houses were demolished, offered the highest cash compensation, which reached 2000 USD per square meter. However, only a few dozen cases examined in the courts are related with the demolition of the houses. Recently, significant strengthening of the provocative campaign is being accompanied by various insinuations in the foreign media, like articles in the German "Spiegel". The position of these media outlets cannot be called otherwise than a politically committed.
Slogans and statements made at the recent meetings of the radical opposition also demonstrate artificial politicization of the question. It`s hard to make a conclusion, when, for example, an old woman declares that she will refuse compensation, even if she will be offered a very large amount.
- How do you generally estimate the report?
- I think that the co-rapporteurs prepared a quite well-balanced document, which reflects the dynamics of the development of democratic institutions in our country. It is the approach we expect from the CoE and all the other international organizations.



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