4.1.Alliance of a group of international NGOs against Azerbaijan

Ahead of 14 May 2014 – the day when Azerbaijan was slated to assume the post of the chairman of the Committee of Ministers – the statutory decision-making body of the Council of Europe – several traditional anti-Azerbaijani organizations kicked off a new wave of campaign against our country. As in the past, among those organizations, European Stability Initiative, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Freedom Files and others showed great zeal.

Well, actually, these organizations have never given up their biased campaign against Azerbaijan. Over the recent several months, their campaign has dynamically gained strength and come to the peak ahead of the visits to Azerbaijan of Council of Europe Secretary General Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland and French President Franҫois Hollande on 8 and 11 May respectively as well as prior to the 14 May accession of Azerbaijan to the office of the chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Remarkably, this time again, the above listed organizations were trying to conduct their anti-Azerbaijani campaigns in an accurate and synchronized manner. I would like to mention another interesting aspect. This time, as always, they were using the same methods against Azerbaijan, and their “favorite” topic was the issue of “political prisoners”.

So, on 22 April 2014, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to French President Franҫois Hollande. On 23 April, European Stability Initiative addressed a letter to public and political figures of several European countries and to 114 PACE members, and on 6 May, Freedom House issued a statement. Interestingly, the crux of these addresses was absolutely identical as if they were prepared by the same center.

The letter by Human Rights Watch claimed that “the government have detained and imprisoned dozens of political activists and government critics, broken up peaceful public demonstrations and adopted a law that bans fundamental freedoms” in Azerbaijan. The letter expressed the hope that during his visit to Baku on 11-12 May 2014, the French president would urge Azerbaijan “to behave in line with the Council of Europe standards”.

In its statement, Freedom House stated that democratic states “should hold the government of Azerbaijan accountable for its poor human rights records, the most serious problem in the country as Azerbaijan prepares to take up the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.”

European Stability Initiative went further, accusing PACE members of voting down a draft resolution by the rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan in January 2013. The ESI claimed that “as the draft resolution was rejected” by PACE members and “no new rapporteur was appointed”, “a wave of new arrests” was kicked off in Azerbaijan, alleging that the human rights situation in the country dramatically deteriorated and politically-motivated arrests were made.

The newsletter called on the Azerbaijan president for pardoning several activists before Azerbaijan assumes the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The newsletter also urged the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to pay an urgent trip to Azerbaijan and to speak out strongly and forcefully over the issue of political prisoners; and, finally, to support  an initiative of appointing a new rapporteur on political prisoners. European Stability Initiative did not calm down with this newsletter and circulated a new material on 5 May after a decision was made public on the 8 May visit of CoE Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland to Baku.

In this newsletter, the organization overstepped the boundaries of all ethical norms by describing the relations between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe as a game of cat and mouse, without refraining even to influence Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, reminding that he is also the Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. It also urged him “to seriously address the issue of political prisoners due to commence in May of the chairmanship of Azerbaijan in the Committee of Ministers”.

European Stability Initiative, notorious for its outright anti­ Azerbaijani rhetoric, published a newsletter on 14 November 2014. This time, European Stability Initiative targeted not only the Azerbaijani government, but also organizations and official representatives of European organizations, who demonstrated balanced positions or didn’t express any view on the issues concerning Azerbaijan.

Characterizing the period when Azerbaijan was chairing the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers between May and November 2014, European Stability Initiative said that “recent events have made the Council of Europe in Strasbourg a stage for political theatre of the absurd”.

European Stability Initiative head Gerald Knaus, who authored the material, referred to the sentencing of Anar Mammadli to five-year imprisonment in May to prove his allegations. He furiously stressed that “up until today, neither the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, nor the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and also former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland have called for his unconditional release”.

The authors of the newsletter could not cope with their anger. Realizing that the Azerbaijani government ignored their groundless and biased allegations, this time, they chose CoE Secretary General Mr. Jagland as the main target in order to take revenge. They got even more furious about the fact that in The Guardian newspaper article, Mr. Jagland described Azerbaijan as “a young democracy which needs help”.

The head of European Stability Initiative, Gerald Knaus, nagged at Mr. Jagland’s statement that “we are closely following several other trials against human rights defenders in Azerbaijan”, and said that on the contrary, he should have called for “these trials, travesties of justice, to stop”.

As can be seen, European Stability Initiative feels uncomfortable “not only with positive, but also with neutral views on Azerbaijan”. It should be noted that issues in question (irrespective of whether or not they were blown out of proportion or actually existed) should be unambiguously addressed legally. However, European Stability Initiative urged that these issues be addressed in a form of pressure on the Azerbaijani government.

According to European Stability Initiative, any claims mentioned in the newsletter are absolute truth. This organization considered that NGO activists, who were convicted for unlawful acts, should be released without taking into account any court verdict and without following any legal procedures. In a nutshell, European Stability Initiative considered itself the highest court instance. This organization actually considered that its allegations and demands themselves were the law, and those allegations were to be treated more authoritative than decisions of courts, including the European Court of Human Rights.

European Stability Initiative did not also forget to comment on the new Working Group on Human Rights. The newsletter reminded the agreement between Mr. Jagland and President Ilham Aliyev in June 2014 on the re-establishment of the Working Group, noting that its composition should include “human rights defenders, parliamentarians, officials of the presidential administration and a Council of Europe expert”. The newsletter further claimed that “this group, handpicked by the Azerbaijani government, included mostly the so-called activists, distinguished by vicious public campaigns against the current political prisoners”.

The head of European Stability Initiative treated issues not in essence but in accordance with pre-programmed  purposes and deliberately deceived the international community by claiming that the newly-established Working Group included “activists” of the vicious public campaigns against current political prisoners and showed no remorse at all.

European Stability Initiative was very well aware that the members of the Working Group, which functioned from 2005 to 2010, were the representatives of well-known NGOs. Most of them are now members of the newly-established Working Group. For instance, Novella Jafaroglu, Saida Gojamanli, Saadat Bananyarli, Eldar Zeynalov, Zaliha Tahirova, Sahib Mammadov and others. Thanks to the efforts of these NGO representatives, over the period in question, many prisoners were released through various legal mechanisms or were pardoned. Thus, allegations that these people were notorious for the vicious public campaigns were, at best, hypocrisy.

On the other hand, the establishment of the new Working Group on Human Rights revealed the readiness of the Azerbaijani government for dialogue, its intention to address the existing problems in the field of human rights, and its determination to implement the recommendations prepared with the participation of representatives of well-known NGOs and the Council of Europe. Laying the groundwork for the Working Group to carry out monitoring of the human rights situation in order to ensure the efficiency of the decisions to be taken in this sector were worthwhile.

However, these aspects were not interesting at all for European Stability Initiative. In line with its predetermined purposes, this organization was opposing any steps taken for objective solutions to the existing issues and was not considering accept­ able to settle legal issues that triggered discussions on the political plain by legal means. In this regard, the opinion of Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, expressed at his meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on 24 June that the final say on the issue of political prisoners should be with the European Court of Human Rights annoyed European Stability Initiative very much. This organization was blaming PACE, the European Court of Human Rights and the Secretariat for such attempts.

European Stability Initiative was apparently opposing  the fact that the assessment of human rights violations and fundamental freedoms stipulated in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols fall under the competences of the European Court of Human Rights.

The material highlighted that “in 2012, Azerbaijan and its allies in a debate in PACE strongly backed an amendment that read: “The Parliamentary Assembly confirms that the interpretation and application of any criteria, defining a political prisoner are the exclusive competence of the European Court of Human Rights, which is the only authority to assess violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, as stipulated in the European Convention for Human Rights and its Protocols”. The policy behind this amendment- which was not adopted-has now been resurrected by the Secretary General. PACE, the Court and the secretariat… all are performing their roles in Baku’s theatre of the absurd”.

With regard to what was mentioned, I would like to emphasize that the issue of political prisoners is a legal issue and should be solved legally. Therefore, I fully support the opinion of Mr. Jagland that the final say on the issue of political prisoner should be with the European Court of Human Rights.

At the end of its newsletter, European Stability Initiative made an interesting, and in my opinion, a dangerous call: “The time to act is now. Business as usual is not an option any longer”. We wonder, to what actions was this organization calling by making such a call and stressing that “business as usual is not an option any longer”?

We can only logically interpret the essence of this call. To what actions can this organization  that is against the assessment of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the European Court of Human Rights by demonstrating disrespect for the rule of law – one of the fundamental  values of Europe – demands the immediate release of persons imprisoned for committing specific violations without observing any legal procedures, call? The answer is only to unrest.

Thus, the predetermined purposes of European Stability Initiative become clear: to undermine the political stability in Azerbaijan and to cause unrest. However, there is only a single aim behind the attempts of international organizations, including European Stability Initiative, to put pressure on Azerbaijan by alleging the deterioration of the human rights situation and the presence of political prisoners in the country, to justify the Armenian aggression and to divert Azerbaijan’s attention from the efforts to liberate the territories under occupation.

Human Rights Watch, international NGO, published its next anti-Azerbaijan statement in late March and early April 2015. The statement was circulated ahead of the visit of EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn to Azerbaijan. I would like to remind that a group of foreign NGOs made a similar anti-Azerbaijani statement ahead of the official visit of EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis to Azerbaijan on 23-26 February.

We should note that Human Rights Watch once again remained loyal to its “tradition”, claiming without any proofs that relentless pressure on human rights in Azerbaijan has been stepped up and repression has increased. Certainly, it was not novelty and Human Rights Watch was trying to prove itself as a driver of the biased campaign against Azerbaijan.

Interestingly, though this statement was of anti-Azerbaijani nature, it was addressed not only to the Azerbaijani public, but to the EU and its Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hans, who had visited Baku. In the statement, Human Rights Watch reproached the EU due to its cooperation with Azerbaijan. The authors of the statement claimed that “as far as remorseless pressure on human rights in the country has been mounted, the European Union often stands aside” and “despite the deepening repression, the EU intends to further strengthen the ties with Azerbaijan”.

All these facts shed light on the malicious purposes of Human Rights Watch. As was obvious that a major purpose of this organization was to achieve severing the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU and the international community as a whole by isolating our country from the world, and consequently; to turn it into a “rogue” state and have it destroyed as a state.

On the other hand, if the primary goal of Human Rights Watch was to protect human rights, this organization would have taken steps to put an end to the occupation of Azerbaijani territories under occupation for over 25 years and restored rights of hundreds of thousands of people. However, the major purpose of this organization is not to protect human rights, but to increase pressure on Azerbaijan, to protect Armenia and to extend the occupation of Azerbaijani territories.

On the third hand, the analyses of the developments show that the international anti-Azerbaijan campaign under the pre­ text of human rights is systematic and is managed from a single center, and the statement by Human Rights Watch is an integral part of this campaign. This campaign was used as one of the key instruments for forming a negative image of Azerbaijan internationally during the First European Games and the 2015 parliamentary elections.

Ahead of PACE’s 2017 April session, another Soros-funded NGO Freedom Files Analytical Centre, carried an extensive re­ port, titled “European values bought and sold”. The report contained allegations, such as systemic corruption in Azerbaijan and the formation by Azerbaijan of a network of international lobbying and corruption activities though they were not substantiated by any proofs.

Like the materials prepared and distributed among PACE members by another Soros-funded NGO European Stability Initiative (ESI), the report prepared by Freedom Files Analytical Centre was also of an anti-Azerbaijani nature and biased.

The analysis of the recent anti-Azerbaijani reports by European Stability Initiative (ESI), Freedom  Files and several other international NGOs allows us to conclude the following:

– biased attacks of various international NGOs, including European  NGOs (Amnesty  International, Human  Rights Watch, Freedom House, ESI, Freedom Files, etc.) are not a coincidence, but  part  of far-reaching  malicious  anti-Azerbaijani campaign. The majority of these NGOs are funded by the Soros Foundation, and their activities are managed in a planned manner from a single center.

– in some mass media  outlets, the publication  of anti-Azerbaijani materials, the preparation of reports by Soros-funded NGOs, filled with allegations of repeated biased and non-confirmed accusations, were aimed at undermining Azerbaijan’s international image. The main target was to cast a doubt over the legitimacy of the elections to be held in Azerbaijan in 2018 and to create conditions for unrest during the elections.

Thus, due to the efforts of the anti-Azerbaijan forces, a large­ scale campaign with the allegations of political prisoners against Azerbaijan through international NGOs was again launched. In order to achieve their aims, this time the international NGOs were functioning simultaneously under a single network.

We should note that several Azerbaijan-based national NGOs collaborate with these anti-Azerbaijani forces. These national NGOs compile different lists of the so-called political prisoners by orders of foreign centers, which finance them and together with their patrons, who are anti-Azerbaijani forces, actively take part in campaigns of international organizations, by alleging that there are many political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

The analyses of the global developments, particularly in the Council of Europe, show that the human rights situation in Azerbaijan does not differ so much from that of other member states of the Council of Europe.

However, except for Azerbaijan, the issue of political prisoners has not been so far applied to any PACE countries so far. Here appears a logical question: Why is it alleged that only in Azerbaijan, among 47 member states, there are political prisoners, and as I mentioned above, why is criteria of a doubtful nature applied only to our country?

Isn’t it a violation of the principle of equal right membership of states in PACE and a demonstration of apparent discrimination against Azerbaijan?

Each person mentioned in the lists of the alleged political prisoners was convicted for specific crimes and there are court decisions on them. In case, these people protest at decisions of the national courts, they have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The issue of political prisoner is a legal matter, and there are court decisions on people who are currently serving prison terms. Therefore, the court decisions can only be altered through existing legal mechanisms. However, several national NGOs, international organizations acting as their patrons, and anti-Azerbaijani forces did not want to make use of this legal mechanism and were purposefully politicizing the issue by re­ moving it from legal context.