Human Rights Watch has called on the current leader of Europe’s leading human rights body, Azerbaijan, to end persecution of government critics and independent groups. Azerbaijan took over the leadership of the Council of Europe 

Azerbaijanin Early May amid much criticism due to the country’s human rights record and ongoing human rights violations, which have been documented by international rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

In particular, Azerbaijan is criticized for its treatment of news media, government critics and independent groups. Abuse of over 40 activists, journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders has been documented by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Most of these people are now in prison. Azerbaijan uses charges such as drug and weapons possession, incitement to violence, hooliganism, tax evasion and treason against these citizens, as reported by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and other international rights groups, although Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly denied politically motivated persecutions.

Read more: Azerbaijan Takes Chair for Council of Europe

“It’s sheer irony that Azerbaijan presides over a body whose standards it so flagrantly violates. The Council of Europe’s leadership should not miss this opportunity to urge Aliyev to free people who are behind bars for nothing more than speaking their minds and to allow independent groups to operate,” stated Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director.

AzerbaijanIn January the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution that stated, “The combination of the restrictive implementation of freedoms with unfair trials and the undue influence of the executive results in the systemic detention of people who may be considered prisoners of conscience,” and one month before the election of Azerbaijan to the chair, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks issued a statement that read, “Unjustified and selective criminal prosecution of people expressing dissenting views, including journalists, bloggers and activists, continues unabated. This is unacceptable. All those who are detained because of the views they expressed must be released.”

The chairmanship of the Council of Europe is a six-month rotating position.

By Sid Douglas

Top photo credit: Council of Europe

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Human Rights Watch