Freedom of Speech Not Respected in Azerbaijan Says European Leader

ANKARA (Noyan Tapan)–Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Lord Russell Johnston issued a plea to the speaker of the Azeri parliament Mortouz Aleskerov–expressing his concern over the practices of freedom of speech in Azerbaijan–the Azeri News Service reported Monday.

The brunt of Johnston’s appeal focused on the recent arrest of Yeni Musavat newspaper editor Arifoghlu.

The newspaper editor was arrested by Musavat party leader Mehdi Huseinly on charges of masterminding the hijacking of a plane bound for Baku from Nakhichevan.

In his letter–Johnston reminded Azeri officials that respect for freedom of speech was a precondition to membership in the Council of Europe.

Johnston added that he and his office had receive numerous written reports from noted international reporters and Council of Europe observers–who have stressed the no so satisfactory situation in Azerbaijan of respect for speech freedoms.

The European leader pointed out that Arifoghlu’s arrest–coupled with the recent closure of the Utch Nokta newspaper by the authorities has created concern in European circles over the fairness of upcoming parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan.

Johnston reminded Aleskerov that respect for freedoms of speech and the press will have a crucial role in Azerbaijan’s membership consideration in the Council of Europe.

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