During a debate today at its plenary session in Strasbourg on “The functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan”, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) raised a number of concerns, particularly with regard to checks and balances, the functioning of the justice system, and freedom of expression and association in Azerbaijan.
“Recent constitutional changes could make the executive less accountable to parliament,” warned PACE in a resolution adopted on the basis of a report by Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC) and Cezar Florin Preda (Romania, EPP/CD), emphasizing the need to develop the oversight function of the parliament over the executive.
The Assembly also considered that the justice system in Azerbaijan must be “genuinely independent, impartial and free from interference by the executive”. It welcomed the President of the Republic’s Executive Order on improving the operation of the prison system and humanisation of criminal policies and called on the authorities to implement it rapidly.
PACE also expressed its concern about “reports linking the Azerbaijani Government to a large-scale money laundering scheme occurring in the years 2012 to 2014, used inter alia to influence the work of members of the Assembly as regards the human rights situation in Azerbaijan”, and urged the Azerbaijani authorities to start an independent and impartial inquiry into these allegations without delay.
While welcoming the release in 2016 and 2017 of some so-called “political prisoners”/“prisoners of conscience”, PACE is concerned about the reported prosecution and ongoing detention of human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and bloggers, and the “arbitrary application of criminal legislation to limit freedom of expression”. It called on the authorities to “use all possible means to release those prisoners whose detention gives rise to justified doubts”.
The adopted resolution calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to promptly ensure the full implementation of the decisions of the ECHR, to strengthen parliamentary control over the executive, to continue the reforms of the judiciary and the prosecution service so as to ensure full independence of the judiciary, to put an end to systemic repression of human rights defenders, the media and those critical of the government, including politically motivated prosecutions, and to create an environment conducive to NGO and media activities.