BRUSSELS–EU officials have criticized Azerbaijan for its human-rights record, in particular noting violations in the area of media freedom.
Speaking at a European Parliament hearing on the human-rights aspects of the EU’s Neighborhood Policy (ENP), senior European Commission official Rutger Wissels said the deteriorating human-rights situation in Azerbaijan is "not acceptable" for the EU.
Wissels said the "negative trend" in Azerbaijan "runs counter to the spirit and purpose of the ENP Action Plan with Azerbaijan, which contains precise commitmen’s concerning human rights, including in the field of media freedom."
Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the EU, Emin Eyyubov, parried the charges, saying improving human-rights observance is his government’s "utmost priority."
Eyyubov blamed a "lack of professional ethics" among journalists, but also the weakness and inexperience of Azerbaijan’s institutions.
EU deputies asked Eyyubov about the progress of an inquiry into the murder of the journalist Elmar Huseynov in 2005. Eyyubov said the authorities are working to solve it.
Rosa Balfour, an analyst with the Center for International Policy Studies in Rome, said the ENP lacks bite in the area of human rights, because partner governmen’s see it as optional.
"The European Neighborhood Policy…does have the potential to improve the EU’s ability to promote some principles that are related to human rights and democracy," Balfour said. "However, one has to be clear that this is likely to happen only in the cases the partner governmen’s are interested in the incentives the EU is offering at the moment."
Balfour said the EU only offers "positive conditions" such as trade benefits, but remains unable to sanction countries which ignore its rights agenda.
The ENP’s stated objective is to facilitate economic integration and good relations with the enlarged EU’s immediate neighbors.
In Paris, Reporters Without Borders called Wednesday on the Azeri government to “stop cracking down on independent and opposition journalists” after the European Parliament’s human rights committee was told by top EU official Rutger Wissels at hearings on 27 August that the press freedom situation in Azerbaijan was “not acceptable.”
The worldwide press freedom organization noted that the Azeri supreme court had on 21 August upheld an appeals court’s two-year prison sentence for libel imposed on journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the newspapers Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerba?djan. His lawyer said he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“The number of lawsuits against Azeri journalists is growing,” it said, “and when journalists are imprisoned, they are held in very poor conditions. The health of Faramaz Allahverdiev of Nota Bene, jailed for two and a half years for libel, has worsened after a recent operation at a prison hospital. His family says he needs a second operation but it will be risky because he is already weak.”