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Isabel Santos (MP, Portugal), the Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, today deplored the intensifying crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan and called on authorities to quickly reverse the trend.
"With this latest round of attacks on the country's civil society, Azerbaijan is making a mockery of its stated aspirations to become a modern, democratic state. I am shocked by developments that have occurred in the last several days alone -- namely, the barring of human rights activist Rasul Jafarov from leaving the country and the clearly politicized charges against Leyla Yunus and her husband," Santos said.
"The fact that these and other disturbing developments have come less than a month after Baku hosted the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Annual Session makes them all the more shameful. I call on Azerbaijan's authorities to take their OSCE human rights commitments seriously and immediately reverse this downward spiral," Santos added.
The PA's human rights chair also referred to a clause in the Baku Declaration, the final document approved by Parliamentarians from across the OSCE area at the conclusion of the recent Annual Session, that "expresses concern at the misuse of administrative procedures and legislation to detain, imprison, intimidate or otherwise silence human rights defenders and critics in numerous OSCE participating States, including Azerbaijan:"
Activist Rasul Jafarov, the chair of the Legal Protection and Awareness Society, has worked to bring human rights violations in Azerbaijan to the attention of the international community. His ban on traveling abroad was revealed this week when he attempted to cross into Georgia. His bank account has also been frozen and he has been subject to official harassment. Jafarov was one of several leading activists who assisted Santos in organizing a side event on fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan at the OSCE PA Annual Session. The event was attended by prominent Azerbaijani MPs, who actively engaged in discussion on the topics raised.
Leyla Yunus, the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy in Azerbaijan, and her husband, Arif Yunus, were arrested on 30 July on charges of treason, tax evasion and other financial crimes. The NGO defends political prisoners, exposes corruption and promotes people-to-people exchanges between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The OSCE PA's human rights chair also expressed concern over the sentencing last month of Azerbaijani education activist and NGO leader Hasan Huseynli to six years in prison on trumped up charges.
Santos also noted with regret the announcement that independent Azerbaijani newspaper "Azadliq" has been forced to suspend publishing due to financial problems. The newspaper has faced official pressure apparently in connection to its reporting on corruption. She described the development as "another blow to the already state-dominated media landscape."
Santos further reiterated her intention to visit jailed Azerbaijani rights defender Anar Mammadli, the Chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre. In early June, she formally requested permission to visit Mammadli during the OSCE PA Annual Session in Baku, but has yet to receive a response from the authorities.