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AZERBAIJAN: STOP REPRESSION AND COMMIT TO DEMOCRATIC REFORM
NEW YORK, May 20, 2005 -- Freedom House today expressed serious concern over the government of Azerbaijan’s increasing abuse and intimidation of opposition activists.
Azeri authorities arrested and detained more than 30 activists on May 18 and 19, part of a broader pattern of repressive measures that effectively deny any non-governmental actor a meaningful voice in Azeri society. Independent media, the non-governmental sector and opposition political parties all face serious obstacles created by the authorities.
The detention of the activists comes in advance of a scheduled public rally planned by the UGUR opposition bloc for May 21. Freedom House called on the government of Azerbaijan to immediately release the detained individuals and to respect the right to freedom of assembly.
"It is time for the Azerbaijani government to demonstrate its commitment to democratic reform with genuine action" said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately, there is a wide gap between the regime's pledges to implement democratic reforms and its following through on these commitments."
Freedom House also expressed concern over the reported mysterious death on May 18 of Ehtiram Jalilov, deputy head of Azerbaijan's National Democratic Party, an opposition group. He died while drinking tea with a colleague. According to the Musavat (Equality) opposition group, he was the second opposition activist to die this year.
The continued denial of political space by the regime has created a tense environment in Azerbaijan. With parliamentary elections scheduled for November 2005, it is essential that those who control power in Azerbaijan meet both the letter and spirit of a decree issued last week by President Ilham Aliev, which requires authorities across the country to ensure the implementation of free and fair elections.
To meet the president's stated objectives, the Azeri government should immediately take the following steps:
Enable the unfettered activity of civil society, both during and outside of election campaign periods. Toward this end the regime should also facilitate less onerous registration and compliance procedures for non-governmental organizations;
Meet obligations within the context of its Council of Europe membership to improve the law on public television and enable the creation of a genuinely independent public television station. At present, all television news outlets with national reach are controlled by the regime, or forces aligned with it. A genuinely free and fair election can only take place with a diversity of political views capable of reaching a national audience;
Cease the aggressive denial of rights to opposition activists in order to bring about a more civil and productive dialogue capable of meeting the needs of average Azeri citizens. Toward this end, the political opposition and protesters should also avoid violence and seek a productive course in looking to meet Azerbaijan's serious public policy challenges, including poverty and corruption.
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
Informing the public about issues in this area that receive little coverage in the Western media.
Staging peaceful demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns in support of specific causes.
Supporting and publicising nonviolent pro-democracy groups throughout the region.
Encouraging European and American involvement.
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