Azerbaijan Denies Entry to PACE Official Amid Increased Scrutiny over Political Prisoners
BAKU (RFE/RL)–A Council of Europe rapporteur for Azerbaijan says he is unable to get a government invitation necessary for gaining a visa to visit Azerbaijan, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reported Thursday.
Christoph Straesser, a German parliament member, told RFE/RL on January 18 he has been trying since May to get an invitation from the Azerbaijani government that would allow him to apply for a visa. He said he intends to travel to Azerbaijan in February.
Straesser serves as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
He said he raised the issue with Samad Seyidov, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, and it will be discussed by the PACE Legal Affairs Committee on January 24.
Baku allowed Straesser to visit in November, when he was part of a PACE mission observing the parliamentary elections.
But he said he has been unable to secure a government invitation, required because of his position as a special rapporteur. He first mentioned his problem to RFE/RL in November.
Seyidov told RFE/RL at the time that Azerbaijani officials are not blocking a visit by Straesser.
But Seyidov added that international organizations should abandon their double standards with regard to Azerbaijan. “Show me [another] country where PACE has appointed a special rapporteur on political prisoners,” he said.
Azerbaijani authorities deny they are holding any political prisoners. They say the people identified as political prisoners by local human rights defenders and international watchdogs were sentenced for committing criminal offenses.
Straesser told RFE/RL that Azerbaijani officials have told him that his visit does not pose a problem, yet he has not received an official explanation for the refusal to send him an invitation.
He warned the Azerbaijani government that if he fails to get an invitation he will complete his report for PACE, and suggested it will not reflect well on Azerbaijan.
“It will be an unusual report — the first report compiled by a rapporteur [who has not visited] the target country” in that capacity, he said.
Straesser said he could also ask PACE to impose sanctions on Azerbaijan, possibly in the form of barring Baku from voting at some PACE sessions.
Straesser has come under fire from opposition politicians and rights activists in Azerbaijan for what they say is his inactivity.
Opposition leaders refused to meet the Council of Europe’s election observers who visited last year, pointing among other things to the fact that Straesser had yet to travel to Azerbaijan to address the issue of political prisoners.