“New round of repression” has begun in Azerbaijan, says PACE
MEPs are shocked by the statements of Ilham Aliyev, and human rights organizations demand that he release detained opposition members
Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Roger Gale called the Azerbaijani authorities’ attempt to use the coronavirus pandemic to suppress the opposition “shameful.” This is in reference to a recent statement by President Ilham Aliyev that some opposition members are spreading panic in the country and, if necessary, will be “isolated” from the rest of society. And considering that one of the opposition leaders was recently arrested on charges of “hooliganism,” the rapporteurs believe that “a new round of repression” has begun in Azerbaijan.
Official data from March 26 states that there are 93 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Azerbaijan. Two people have already died. Ten have recovered. The country has instated a special quarantine regime.
On March 19, Ilham Aliyev called the “unaccommodating” opposition, who did not want to engage in dialogue with the authorities, a “fifth column,” “traitors” and “provocateurs,” whose main goal is to “destroy Azerbaijan.”
“The language used by President Aliyev to describe his country’s legitimate political opposition as a traitorous ‘fifth column’ is profoundly undemocratic. It is precisely in times of public emergency that political pluralism and responsibly exercised freedom of expression are most important, so as to allow open debate on policy and the free flow of information amongst the public,” said PACE member Stefan Schennach.
On March 22, member of the opposition Musavat party and former political prisoner Tofiq Yaqublu was arrested on charges of “hooliganism.” He faces several months in prison. But both PACE representatives and the international human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch consider this charge to be fabricated and politically motivated, and demand that the Azerbaijani authorities release Yaqublu.
“It is very likely that the Azerbaijani government is initiating the next round of political repression. This does not bode well for the future of the country as part of the Council of Europe,” commented PACE special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan Thorhildur Sunna Aevarsdottir.
During the same period of time, several more opposition activists were arrested under various pretenses (for example, violation of the quarantine regime) and sentenced to administrative detention.