4.3. Post-Strasser wave of political prisoners allegations against Azerbaijan

The anti-Azerbaijani forces became disappointed after Strasser’s report “Follow-up to the issue of political prisoner in Azerbaijan” was rejected at the January 2013 session of PACE. Nevertheless, shortly after their defeat, they were making efforts to put back the issue on the PACE’s agenda again and again.

They have mobilized their forces to devise new strategies so that to get new opportunities for political influence against Azerbaijan in PACE. The revival of the so-called issue of political prisoners and putting it back on the agenda by all means and making use of it against Azerbaijan underlay these strategies. Thus, the issue of political prisoners is the most effective instrument of influencing any PACE member state, including Azerbaijan.

Along with it, Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories of Azerbaijan, retaining the Sarsang reservoir under occupation and the use of water as a weapon against civilians and the deliberate deprivation of the Azerbaijani population from water, and Azerbaijan’s continuous struggle against Armenia’s aggression, the drafting of new draft resolutions, and finally, the adoption of Resolution 2085 (2016) made Armenia, pro-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani forces to join their efforts to inflict damage on Azerbaijan’s international image and disseminate bogus claims of rife corruption at the state level in the country.

However, they needed motives for proving that Azerbaijan is involved in corruption at the state level and they found them. They were the rejection of Strasser’s report from 2013; the success in preparation of a report on the escalation of the tension in Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan; the adoption of Resolution 2085 (2016) on “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water” and the positive assessment of the 2008, 2010, 2013 elections by the PACE observation mission that led to the launch of a campaign, alleging that they were possible thanks to bribing PACE members  by the government of Azerbaijan. The PACE members, who contributed to Azerbaijan’s success, were accused of taking bribe.

To add confidence to their claim, the anti-Azerbaijan forces claimed that the defeat of Strasser’s report was possible because of bribing of former PACE member, Luca Volonte, by me (Elkhan Suleymanov). Thus, for the purpose of continuing and stepping up pressure against Azerbaijan, corruption allegations were put forward against me (Elkhan Suleymanov) and Muslum Mammadov, and members of PACE – an international organization in defense of the supremacy of law – believed in the groundless allegations without a court decision.

In order to persuade both PACE members and international community, the anti-Azerbaijan forces succeeded in drafting reports through European Stability Initiative, broadcasting programs on Italian RAI TV and  disseminating a series of stories in other media outlets, circulating delirious allegations that me (Elkhan Suleymanov) bribed former PACE member Luca Volonte and turned PACE into a den of corruption.

At this point, the anti-Azerbaijani forces made use of a thesis by Goebbels, main ideologist of Nazism: “If you repeat a lie of­ ten enough, it becomes the truth”.

Therefore, it was not a coincidence that ahead of 14 May 2014 when Azerbaijan was going to assume the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, the supreme body of the Council of Europe, several traditional anti-Azerbaijan organizations launched a wide-ranging campaign against our country.

As part of this campaign, European Stability Initiative, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs began circulating materials full of allegations, claiming rampant corruption, dramatic deterioration of democracy and human rights situation and an increase in the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

One of such attempts was made at PACE by Irish MP McNamara. On 8 April2014, McNamara and others put forward a motion, titled “Azerbaijan’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe: What follow-up on respect for human rights?”

This draft resolution with the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights aimed at drafting a new report, similar to the defeated notorious one by Strasser. Over 70 per cent of the signatories to the motion were from the Socialists Group. This was a fresh attack against Azerbaijan.

We should note that the motion mentioned the names of three alleged political prisoners. One of them was llgar Mammadov, Director of the School of Political Studies of the Council of Europe in Baku. As he was to some extent directly related to the Council of Europe, llgar Mammadov’s detention frustrated some of the PACE leaders very much.

The Presidential Committee considered the draft motion at its 10 April meeting, both Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki and the head of the Socialist Group Gross insisted on an “accelerated” procedure. In other words, the Bureau could already consider the issue on 11 April and immediately refer it to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for drafting a report.

The “accelerated” procedure was very exceptional, and therefore, a full consensus needed on the issue. The aim of the authors was dearly to restart a new version of Strasser’s report on political prisoners, which had been previously defeated. It was a very well-prepared attack against Azerbaijan and was kept completely confidential. However, after prolonged discussions, the Presidential Committee could not reach any agreement.

Later, a gentleman’s agreement was reached among the members and it was approved at the Bureau meeting on 23 June 2014. Under the gentleman’s agreement, the motion was not to be referred for a report, but should be included in the current Monitoring report on Azerbaijan only for information and be reflected in the report of the Monitoring Committee slated for presentation at the January 2015 session.

However, at the end of the 23 June meeting, PACE President Anne Brasseur caused confusion by de-facto challenging the Bureau’s resolution and announcing a decision on referring the issue up for a report only after the voting with a dozen parliamentarians in attendance. In my opinion, this practice proved that the anti-Azerbaijani forces were unable to win struggle in a normal way and sought solutions beneath the dignity.

At the 25 June meeting of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, after a lengthy; tiring and heated debates on the election of a rapporteur, Pedro Agramunt won Dutch MP Omtzigt and was appointed a rapporteur to prepare a report on ‘ Azerbaijn’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe: What follow-up on respect for human rights?”

After Pedro Agramunt was elected the president of PACE, Alain Destexhe, chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, was appointed a rapporteur. Alain Destexhe prepared the report and submitted it to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights ahead of the 2017 summer session and the committee adopted the report. Nevertheless, following the biased criticism and accusations at the summer session of PACE, Alain Destexhe resigned as the committee chairman, as a rapporteur and all together from PACE membership. His report was approved at the Assembly’s 2017 autumn session.

I should note that resorting to every kind of trick, the anti­Azerbaijan forces were continuing their attacks against Azerbaijan in PACE from different directions. For this purpose, under various pretexts, they were initiating draft resolutions, trying to succeed in drafting reports. This time they chose a new tactic and did not openly mention Azerbaijan’s name in the title of draft resolutions, showing issues raised in those draft resolutions in the context of the Council of Europe member states.

Among similar issues, I feel compelled to mention two re­ ports, entitled “Protecting human rights defenders in the Council of Europe member states”, prepared by MP Mailis Reps (Estonia, ALDE), and “How to prevent inappropriate restrictions on NCO activities in Europe”, prepared by MP Yves Cruchten (Luxembourg, SOC).

Although both reports were formally applied to the Council of Europe member states, or European states, their main target was Azerbaijan. In addition, both rapporteurs – Mrs. Reps and Mr. Cruchten have always displayed virulent anti-Azerbaijani critic and have become popular for their biased and hostile attitudes towards our country.

For instance, I would like to point out that Mrs. Reps abused her powers as a rapporteur on “protection of human rights defenders” and over recent years, she made absolutely unreasonable and biased attacks against Azerbaijan.

With active support of the PACE secretariat, she published very biased statements against Azerbaijan on the PACE website and in the international media outlets. During each debates in committees and plenary sessions, she voiced tendentious allegations against Azerbaijan irrespective of PACE’s official position.

Moreover, PACE Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki and his secretariat remained loyal to her outright anti-Azerbaijani position and were actively supporting Mrs. Reps. Instead of the official texts adopted by the Assembly, her personal statements were attached great emphasis on and covered in depth in the media.