In a recent meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev — whose country now heads the Council of Europe – lashed out at European lawmakers, who sought to question Aliyev about his regime’s deplorable human rights record and his country’s legitimacy in leading the Council of Europe. U.K. Member of Parliament Paul Flynn was one of the lawmakers at the PACE meeting who questioned Aliyev and who subsequently received an angry response. Flynn has written about Aliyev and the meeting in his public blog. The full article is below.
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The Bully of Baku Rages
BY PAUL FLYNN
Member of Parliament for Newport West, U.K.
Azerbaijan’s President is no joke.
Aliyev revealed himself as a braggart and a bully in Strasbourg this week. To others he is a sinister menacing threat, growing richer by the month, who could bring war back to the Caucasus. Human rights organizations have warned that Azerbaijan does not qualify to chair the Council of Europe – the world’s leading defenders of human rights.
I was given 30 seconds to ask him a question in the Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg. I asked him:
“I have met bloggers and journalists who have been falsely accused and imprisoned in Azerbaijan, elections have been rigged. Will your presidency mean that Azerbaijan will be elevated to the COE standard of human rights or will other states see their standards of human rights degraded to your deplorable level?”
He lost his temper as he did with all challenging questioners. He accused me of lying. He added to his previous hyperbole of his country’s immaculate human rights record by denying the two charges I had briefly made.
Perhaps Mr. Aliyev should read the OCSE monitors’ report on his 2013 election. “The 9 October election was undermined by limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates. Continued allegations of candidate and voter intimidation and a restrictive media environment marred the campaign. Significant problems were observed throughout all stages of Election Day processes and underscored the serious nature of the shortcomings that need to be addressed in order for Azerbaijan to fully meet its OSCE commitments for genuine and democratic elections.”
The counting was assessed in overwhelmingly negative terms, with 58 per cent of observed polling stations assessed as bad or very bad, indicating serious problems. In 15 observed counts, IEOM (International Election Observation Mission) observers reported manipulation of voter list entries, results or protocols, including cases of votes being reassigned to a different candidate.
IEOM observers reported clear indications of ballot box stuffing in 37 polling stations. They also reported from seven polling stations that voters who had already been inked were allowed to vote. IEOM observers noted a number of procedural violations, the most widespread concerned lack of safeguards against multiple voting: in 19 per cent of polling stations visited, voters were not always checked for traces of invisible ink, and in 11 per cent, ink was not always applied. Other violations included ballot boxes which were not sealed properly (4 per cent) and series of seemingly identical signatures on the voter list (4 per cent). Group voting was observed in 7 per cent of polling stations visited. In 9 per cent of polling stations observed, not all voters marked their ballots in secrecy. IEOM observers reported isolated cases of intimidation and attempts to influence voters’ choice. In 8 per cent of those polling stations visited that had cameras installed, IEOM observers assessed that their placement did not completely safeguard the secrecy of the vote.
This is the election that President Aliyev assesses fair. Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch said:
“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.”
In October 2011 I wrote this on my blog: “Jailed blogger freed”
It was a real pleasure to meet Emin Milli in parliament this week. I have campaigned against his arrest in July 2009 by the security forces of the Azerbaijan Government. Their alleged crime was mocking the oppressive government.
Emin shook me warmly by the hand and thanked me. He told me he read this account of my EDM when he was in prison:
“A group of UK politicians is demanding the immediate release of the Azerbaijani bloggers arrested in Baku last week. In the equivalent of an MPs’ petition, 17 politicians condemn what they say is a ‘rapidly deteriorating human rights situation’ in Azerbaijan. The MPs want the British government to put pressure on President Aliyev to release the two and end the “prosecution of independent media and opposition activists.
“In the motion, Labour MP Paul Flynn says the MPs condemn ‘the attacks and imprisonment of youth activists in Azerbaijan on 10 July 2009.’
“He and the 17 other MPs are calling on the UK government to demand their immediate release. They also call for the end to what they say is the ‘prosecution of independent media and opposition activists.’”
Unfortunately the arrests of journalists and bloggers continue. Not a whisper of regret from Aliyev. He boasted that only 800 demonstrators had protested against his election last year. No surprise, as previous demonstrators were beaten to pulp by Aliyev’s police.
Aliyev’s vast oil wealth is being used to seduce the world and convince us of his bottomless virtue. Inevitably his speech this week contained the usual complaint about the West’s lack of intervention in the 22 year frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh. Aliyev hinted on some action. Observers of the conflict expressed fears to me that he may be planning military action. Our best hope to avoid bloodshed is to ensure the conflict remains in permafrost.