COVID-19: PACE monitors warn Azerbaijani authorities against abuse of pandemic to crack down on opposition

The PACE rapporteurs for the monitoring of Azerbaijan, Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC) and Sir Roger Gale (United Kingdom, EC/DA), have expressed their concern at the crackdown on critics of the authorities under the guise of combating the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as the safety of prisoners convicted in unfair trials and considered by the international community as political prisoners.

“We have received numerous reports of large-scale repression of government opponents and restrictions on freedom of expression, including Internet access, under the pretext of safety measures against the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.

“Over 15 opposition activists and journalists have been sentenced to detention of up to 30 days on charges that include breaking lockdown rules or disobeying police orders. We are particularly worried by reports that Ali Kerimli, leader of the opposition Popular Front Party, has been placed under de facto house arrest and had his internet and telephone lines blocked. The case of opposition activist Agil Khumbatov, who was allegedly placed in an asylum and forced to undergo psychological treatment following critical statements, also raises the utmost concern,” they added.

“Unfortunately, these arrests follow a long-standing pattern of repression against critics of government. In the present context we are particularly worried for the safety of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, since their health and lives are at risk as a result of possible COVID-19 infection.”

“We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to comply strictly with the country’s international obligations regarding the protection of freedom of expression, and to refrain from any abuse of measures intended to fight the Coronavirus pandemic to muzzle political opposition,” they concluded.