3.7. Suspicious collaboration between OSCE/ODIHR and George Soros

In 2008, the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission (EOM) consisted of a main team of 12 international experts stationed at the Baku head office, and a team of 28 long-term observers deployed in the regions.

The majority of the EOM observers were sent from 23 OSCE member states, mainly from the “western Vienna”, where the OSCE headquarters are located. Only 2 years later – in 2010, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM consisted of a main team of 15 people and a team of 22 long-term observers. During the 2013 elections, EOM was made up of a team of 15 people and 30 long-term observers.

In the 11 April 2018 presidential election, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM was represented by a main team of 11 experts and in all 28 long-term observers. Another noteworthy point is that more observers were sent to Azerbaijan with 9.5m population than to the United States with a population of 325 million. The logical question arises is why the OSCE/ODIHR send 28 long-term observers to observe elections in Azerbaijan and only 26 experts to the United States, whose population is 35 times more than Azerbaijan. When a team of 13 observers was sent to the U.S. presidential elections in 2016, what was the aim of sending more observers to Azerbaijan for the latest presidential elections?

Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland always send election observers to Azerbaijan within the OSCE/ODIHR’s EOM and the representatives of these countries often demonstrate biased position against Azerbaijan in the organizations, such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Therefore, the methodology of the OSCE/ ODIHR results in the double standards, as well as the merger of EOMs from “western Vienna” in a single center.

Moreover, the absence of a method and the very high number of international observers coming to Azerbaijan to observe the elections reveal aims behind the observation missions of the OSCE/ODIHR. The willingness of the OSCE/ODIHR to send more observers to Azerbaijan indicates that openly politicized approach is prepared beforehand in order to form the situation from inside with external means.

And this indicates that the leadership of the OSCE/ODIHR, which is under the influence of certain circles, deliberately politicizes the monitoring of elections in order to put forward groundless allegations against Azerbaijan after the elections.

As is known, the key role of the OSCE/ODIHR was defined in accordance with the Helsinki Document adopted in 1992. Under this document, the major role of the OSCE/ODIHR is to assist the member states in fulfilling their commitments in the sphere of human rights. However, abusing its competences in observing the elections in Azerbaijan, this institution exceeded its mandate and took politically motivated decisions.

We all know that the OSCE/ODIHR was established in 1991. Currently, over 180 staff members from 35 countries are employed by this institution. The activities of the ODIHR are funded from the main budget adopted by member states annually, as well as, by voluntary donations.

Analyses show that since 2008, all directors of the ODIHR were connected to the Soros Foundation, which serves to the global U.S. supremacy through destabilization of stability in other countries by means of globalization, or they, at least, made great efforts to conspire with this network.

Janez Lenarčič (Slovenia) was the director of the OSCE/ODI­ HR in 2008-2014. In this position, he was replaced by Michael Georg Link (Germany) in 2014-2017. Ingibjörg Sólrứn Gisladóttir (Iceland) has been director of ODIHR since 2017.

While analyzing the presence of any ties between the ODIHR leadership and individuals related to George Soros’ NGOs, as well as the existence of any coordination between them, it be­ comes dear that Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, who was the director of ODIHR in 2008-2014, maintain personal relationship with George Soros, and his most reliable employee in Europe is Gerald Knaus, Director of the European Stability Initiative (ESI). ESI is financed by Soroś, belongs to the Open Society Institution, and dedicated its activities to the criticism of the Azerbaijani government in order to undermine the stability in Azerbaijan.

It is common that the interference of the Open Society Foundations, formerly the Open Society Institute, in the election process in the former Soviet republics stimulated several public movements and this reached its culmination with the overthrow of unfriendly to Soros countries’ leaders through “color revolutions”.

  • • Supporting civil society organizations for a long time to form personnel consisting of activists;
  • • Providing political movements in progress with money and experience;
  • • Holding negotiations with Western governments on behalf of activists;
  • • Providing reformists coming to power with support after elections.

The Open Society Foundations participated in most of the fundamental changes in the region. It is suffice to name countries, such as Slovakia (1998-1999), Croatia (1999-2000), Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003-2004), Ukraine (2004, 2014) and Kyrgyzstan (2005). The Open Society Foundations also rendered financial assistance to a number of NGOs acting as local actors ahead of the elections in the region and these organizations operated to realize Soros’ interests.

As I have already mentioned, Michael Georg Link from Germany held the position of Director of the ODIHR in 2014-2017 after Ambassador Lenarčič. Michael Georg Link was elected to the German parliament as a member of the Free Democratic Party from Heilbronn/Baden-Wiirttemberg, and kept the mandate until 2013. During that time (2006-2013), Link established strong relationship with the OSCE as a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. He was the minister of state for Europe in the German government from January 2012 to December 2013 and was responsible for the issues of the OSCE, the EU, the Council of Europe and NATO.

Michael Georg Link is a former chairman of the supervisory board of the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF). The Centre for International Peace Operations is an important Organization in Germany dedicating its activity to the electoral matters among others. Michael Georg and Gerald Knaus repeatedly met and held numerous meetings at the institutions, such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe with fierce critics of the Azerbaijani government.

ZlF is an institution that enjoys big influence in the OSCE/ ODIHR. For example, ZlF organized an event to discuss the work of the election observation missions in 2014. The panel featured Soros’ anti-Azerbaijani employee Gerald Knaus; Head of Policy Planning Staff at the German Federal Foreign Office, Tomas Bagger; Deputy Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Department Nicola Schmidt; and socialist MP Christoph Strasser, the Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid of the German Government, who has always been very critical of Azerbaijan in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The moderator of the event was Vibke Hansen, Director of ZIF.

At the event, Gerald Knaus made open suggestions regarding the work of the OSCE/ODIHR, underlined the need for strengthening the organization and resolutely explained the difference between long-term professional missions and opinion-driven short-term (political) missions. During the debate, Strasser agreed that it was a good idea to reduce the parliamentary missions and instead to strengthen long-term professional missions. Knaus added that the parliamentarians had to continue monitoring, but they should not issue an assessment on behalf of the “delegation” based on the short-term basis. Furthermore, Knaus recommended that the ODIHR should certify the local monitoring organizations (their independence will be retained) in order to distinguish them from political parties and the pro-government organizations.

There is considerable evidence that the Open Society Foundations has been influencing ODİHR’s activities for years without informing the government properly of the lobbying activities. At this point, it would be a truly evident occurrence that these two institutions, having numerous relations with each other and a lot of information about what others do and work hard for the same purpose, cannot find a way to cooperate.

Michael Georglink was the Director of OSCE/ODIHR, which cancelled the mission to observe the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan in 2015 in order to delegitimize the government of Azerbaijan. He said: “The insistence of the Azerbaijani authorities on a restricted number of the observers directly contradicts the country’s commitments before the OSCE and the election observation mandate of the ODIHR”.

We should also note that when the director of the OSCE/ODI­ HR, Michael Georg Link, played an active role in the relations with PACE inorder to influence the election observations of the Council of Europe and succeeded in reducing the relevance of the short-term observation missions.

Ingibjörg Sólrứn Gisladóttir from Iceland assumed the mandate as the Director of the OSCE/ODIHR in June 2017. Gisladóttir replaced Michael Georg Link of Germany. Before becoming the Director of the ODİHR, from 2014 Gfslad6ttir served as Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia at UN Women, and Country Representative to Turkey. She worked as a Country Representative of this Committee for Afghanistan in 2011-2014. The position of the OSCE/ODIHR on the 11 April 2018 presidential elections in Azerbaijan demonstrated that this institution under the leadership of Ingibjörg Sólrứn Gisladóttir will take no steps to increase reliability or eliminate the application of double standards to the countries, such as Azerbaijan.

3.6.OSCE/ODIHR EOM reports are result of copy-and­paste approach

As a whole, the election observation is a very efficient tool for mobilizing the civil society and for various forces to destabilize political regimes. In this regard, the OSCE/ODIHR, being an institution that carries out an election observation mission, is a tool to keep the regime change in the hands of the West and under its effective control. Therefore, it is not wrong to associate the election observation of the OSCE/ODIHR with political unrest.

The 8 November 2010 statement on the preliminary findings and conclusions made by the OSCE/ODIHR, the OSCE PA, PACE and the European Parliament, reads as follows: “While the 7 November parliamentary elections in the Republic of Azerbaijan were characterized by a peaceful atmosphere and with participation of all opposition parties in the political process, the conduct of these elections overall was insufficient to constitute meaningful progress in the democratic development of the country”.

After three years, the statement of the OSCE/ODIHR on the 2013 election read as follows: “The election was undermined by the limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates. 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.”

In general, non-objective assessment of the elections in Azerbaijan by the OSCE/ODIHR has become regular after the country gained independence. Particularly, while PACE, the European Parliament and the OSCE PA positively assessed the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections, the assessment of the OSCE/ ODIHR mission was non-objective and biased. In 2015, the OSCE/ODIHR refused to observe the parliamentary elections under various pretexts and tried unsuccessfully to delegitimize the parliamentary elections through predetermined acts of sabotage. What concerns us most is that the organization, designed to be impartial in the fulfilment of its duties, has manipulated the reality regarding the elections in Azerbaijan over the last 10 years under scrutiny to fill pages of its pro-Western and anti­ Azerbaijani documents.

Actually; the reports of the OSCE/ODIHR regarding the2008, 2013,and 2018 presidential elections and the2010 parliamentary elections as well as the report of the Needs Assessment Mission published prior to the 2015 parliamentary elections consisted of the same copied and pasted sentences, words and phrases.

For example, in the following examples, sentences, phrases, or words in black letters have repeatedly been replayed in the final reports of the OSCE/ODIHR during various election years. It cannot be coincidence that reports of different election observation missions to contain the same words said in 2008, 2013 and 2015 years. Only figures were changed in the texts, however, the messages which are of political nature and directed at undermining the stability in Azerbaijan remained unchanged. The OSCE/ODIHR should give an explanation on this, since its credibility as an impartial election observer with such a practice falls to very low level.

It is known that in 2008, 2013, and 2015, heads of the OSCE/ODIHR EOM and composition of the missions had been different. Here emerges a question: How is it possible that different competences, different members in different years repeat the same sentences in the final reports? Is anyone responsible for the “manipulation” of the OSCE/ODIHR mission reports behind the scenes? Actually, the author of this report resolutely considers that the preliminary reports prepared by the OSCE/ODIHR observers are, consequently, manipulated in accordance with the political agenda predetermined in order to serve the national interests of the Western countries through the network of NGOs.

3.5. OSCE/ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) reports are biased

The OSCE Bureau for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) usually presents a Needs Assessment Mission Report prior to the elections to be held in member states. Following an invitation of the Azerbaijani government, the OSCE/ODIHR announced the Needs Assessment Mission Report on the 1 November parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan at the end of August 2015.

The report was almost repeating the similar documents, pre­ pared for the previous elections in 2008, 2010, and 2013, and only the figures differed from the previous ones. Important points regarding the election environment and electoral process were merged under the following topics: gender equality, election commissions, appeals procedures, candidate registration process and the freedom of assembly, NGO election monitoring, defamation rules and the media access.

The comprehensive analysis of the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report revealed that the recommendations by the international institutions (EP, PACE, OSCE PA, OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission) so far with regard to the elections in Azerbaijan were summarized around the topics mentioned in the NAM re­ port and several other critical remarks. The objectivity and the level of substantiation of these critical remarks were of utmost importance.

Therefore, in order to evaluate whether or not and to what extent these critical remarks made in the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report on the relevant legal framework and practice in Azerbaijan are objective, we comparatively analyzed the framework of the electoral process in Azerbaijan with the legislation and practices of some European countries, such as of German, French, Dutch and Norwegian ones. All key issues were reflected in the comparative analysis, and the gender equality was separately analyzed from international point of view.

1. The OSCE/ODIHR NAM drew attention to the fact that women are underrepresented in the public office, holding some 16% of the seats in the parliament, and 1 out of the 42 ministerial posts. It should be noted in this regard that the issue of underrepresentation of women in decision-making posts is one of the very important issues in many mature democracies.

The parallel comparative analysis shows that the percentage of women in national parliaments over the period of 2010-2014 is similar or less than in Azerbaijan in most cases with international and European examples. For example, the Czech Republic (20%), Estonia (19%), Hungary (10%), Ireland (16%), Japan (8%), Malta (14%), Romania (14%), the United Kingdom (23%) and the United States (19%).

Moreover, in our region, the Republic of Azerbaijan with 16% of the female parliamentarians possesses the best result, and consequently, this figure stands at 11% in Armenia, 12% in Georgia, 3% in Iran, 14% in the Russian Federation, and 14% in Turkey.

Interestingly, the NAM report mentions the lack of any provision in the election commissions with regard to the balanced gender representation. However, analysis revealed that the election laws of the countries under consideration do not provide for specific provisions on the representation of women in any of the relevant electoral commissions of those states. Thus, in Azerbaijan’s example, it was groundless and biased to touch upon the issue of gender equality in the election laws on the composition of the electoral commissions.

2. Another issue discussed in the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report concerns the election commissions. The report says that the formula for organizing compositions of the election commissions, the candidate registration procedure, the review mechanism of complaints and appeals remained the subject of the longstanding recommendations and has not yet been considered.

We made comparative analysis of the Azerbaijani legislation on the organization of the elections, its proper supervision and the institution responsible for the election process and its formation mechanisms with the German, Dutch, Norwegian and French legislations.

Comparative analyses of the electoral laws of the countries concerned indicate that in certain cases (for instance, in Germany or in Netherlands), the Interior Ministry, a branch of the executive authorities, is entrusted with broad powers to nominate the members of the central electoral commissions. Therefore, in view of the fact that the Central Election Commission is the central body responsible for the organization, conduct, control of the elections in the country and functions as an independent administration, the criticisms of the system applied in Azerbaijan is both unjustified and unfair.

At the same time, it was found that none of the mentioned European states adopted any legal provisions to deal with the possible influence of the ruling political parties on issues such as the decision to set up election commissions. In addition, the legal provisions do not stipulate specific rules on the legal capacity and professionalism of the election officials.

As a result, it can be concluded  that although one can agree on the possibility of progresses  in the organization and activities of the election commissions, the analysis of the current system that secures the political parity in the organization of the election commissions in Azerbaijan is the most appropriate and balanced  system among the analyzed models. We believe that the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report contains groundless and narrow judgments on this issue.

3. One of the points of criticism of the ODIHR’s NAM report concerns the duration of the election campaign. It is well-known that the election campaign in Azerbaijan legally commences 23 days prior to the voting day and any election campaign must stop minimum 24 hours prior to the start of the voting.

The comparison found out that the laws in Germany, Netherlands and Norway do not define the duration of the election campaign period. However, the French legislation defines exactly 20 days of campaigning period for the National Assembly elections before the polling day. Alongside, it should be noted that though the German, Dutch and Norwegian laws do not provide for the duration of the election campaign periods, customs and traditions, as well as extra legal requirements and practical considerations, such as costs, de-facto dictate a campaign period of 3 to 5 weeks.

Thus, Azerbaijan has similar campaigning period with the other European nations in question in the report. From legal perspective strictly, France has the most stringent legal provisions, with only twenty days of legally sanctioned election campaign period. In this regard, Azerbaijan’s regulations are softer than of France, and at the same time, are on par with the de facto campaigning period in other analyzed European countries.

4. The appeals procedures are one of the points touched upon in the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report. It should be noted that according to the Azerbaijani legislation, complaints about potential violations of the electoral laws may be filed by the parties concerned within three days after an alleged illegal decision or an action is taken. All such motions are investigated by expert groups created at the Central Election Commission, made up of nine members, and at the district electoral commissions, consisting of three members. According to the existing dual legal framework in Azerbaijan, the complaints are first dealt with by the independent electoral commissions, after that an applicant can appeal to the court (Court of Appeal) both prior and after the elections.

It should be noted that Azerbaijan keeps the legislative branch away from the appeals process by enabling decisions to be made by the Central Election Commission which is a more politically balanced institution, while also providing for the judiciary to play a very active role. The other European countries under consideration do not enact provisions aiming at eliminating a potential abuse of power by the ruling parliamentary majority. Only in limited instances, it allows for appeals to the judiciary when the issue is about the right to vote as guaranteed under the constitution. In general, the comparative analysis shows that Azerbaijan’s procedures for electoral appeals are at least on a par with those enacted by other European countries. Accordingly, critical remarks voiced over this issue should be considered as biased.

5. OSCE/ODIHR NAM report draws special attention to the candidate registration process during the parliamentary elections and says that each potential candidate shall submit 450 signatures of the registered voters to their respective constituency electoral commissions. It expresses concerns about a potential pressure for signatures given to the opposition political parties and other independent candidates.

The analyses show that for the registered political parties that have gained seats in the national parliaments (Netherlands and Germany) or have garnered a minimum amount of votes at the latest elections (Norway), it is enough to submit documents, and the signatures of the executive leaders of the parties. France does not apply any special requirements in terms of endorsement of signatures for the parliamentary elections. Besides, in situation other than mentioned, for a candidacy to be registered at the national elections, Norway requires 500 valid signatures, with Germany 200 and the Netherlands 30. This implicitly signifies the fact that parliamentary parties are subject to easier legal constraints than other groups.

Furthermore, Azerbaijan, in particular, allows voters to sign in support of multiple hopefuls, and this makes the registration process easier. When a voter in the Netherlands gives a signature, he/she is demanded to physically report to a relevant state body. Germany enables the voters to also withdraw their signatures given in support of candidates, thus nullifying the candidature if a majority of them follow this provision, as well as candidates are required to be nominated in an internal electoral process by a political party.

Azerbaijan, Germany and Norway do not apply any financial restrictions for the registration of candidates. However, Netherlands requires extra-parliamentary political parties to make a mandatory deposit (minimum deposit of 11.250 euro). This deposit is not refunded if a minimum number of votes are not gained in the electoral process, thus creates a barrier for a new and limited appeal with regard to their participation in the electoral process at the national level.

Thus, compared to the valid processes in the Western democracies under consideration, the idea that the candidate registration process in Azerbaijan creates some significant difficulties for interested parties (political groups or independent candidates) is groundless.

6. OSCE/ODIHR NAM report expressed serious concerns about not easing of restrictive provisions on the freedom of assembly, the freedom of association and the freedom of expression.

During the analysis, we drew attention on separation of the right of holding peaceful gatherings from other types of manifestations and concluded that in general, the fundamental rules pertaining to public gatherings in those countries are not different from that in Azerbaijan.

It should also be noted that the legal provisions instituted by Azerbaijan also make a clear and notable distinction between the participants in illegal gatherings and their organizers. As in all Western countries, the organizers should bear more responsibility for any illegal behavior. Therefore, any claim should not be based on allegation but specific examples. For example, if legal provisions on public gatherings are ignored by responsible officials, if the organizers of the said gatherings and manifestation take this issue to court successfully or other way round can be samples.

In the absence of such examples and with the fundamental legal guidelines regarding the freedom of assembly not being in any way obstructive to their rules in Azerbaijan as compared to western nations, we can only conclude that at least on this matter: the NAM report is fundamentally based on opinions expressed by interested parties and not legal facts or concrete examples where potential wrong-doing or faulty regulations can be addressed.

7. The OSCE/ODIHR NAM report highlights the NGO election monitoring as one of the issues of concern. It notes that although several civil society organizations expressed their intentions to observe the elections, many said that a lack of financial resources would likely restrict their activities to do so.

The analysis reveals that Azerbaijan, Netherlands and Norway specifically allow registered national and international observers to monitor voting at polling stations. Norway requires the registration of both local and international observers. Although France and Germany in principle allow monitoring of the elections, they do not have special legal provisions or specific regulations.

Despite concerns expressed in the OSCE/ODIHR NAM re­ port, monitoring regulations, applied in Azerbaijan, are directly in line with those of the analyzed Western nations. Considering the all-encompassing and permissive nature of the law passed by the Republic of Azerbaijan for this purpose, as well as the fact that crossed monitoring by all interested parties and voters is not only permitted but facilitated, any concerns regarding the capacity of observers and voters willing to supervise the electoral process are unfounded and are blown out of proportion.

8. Finally, the final concern expressed in the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report concerned the defamation rules and the media. The report stressed that although the freedom of expression, the media freedom and the right to access to information are guaranteed in the constitution, defamation remains a criminal offence, with a penalty of up to two years in prison.

It should be noted that the issue of defamation as a matter of fact remains as one of the most contentious matters when discussing Azerbaijani legislation. However, as the comparative analysis indicates, defamation provisions in the Azerbaijani legislation are not at all dissimilar from articles of Dutch, French, Norwegian or German laws, and are much milder in terms of the potential sentences applied for similar offences in some Western countries.

For example, in Germany, human dignity is protected by relevant provisions of the Criminal Code and is subjected to two years in prison in case of insult; for defamation, the punishment period is two years; libel in the media is punishable for up to five years in prison if committed publicly through distribution of written materials, which, inter alia, may include newspaper articles. Alternatively; the above-mentioned violations are punishable from theoretically minimum 5 to 10.8 million euros.

In the Netherlands slander is punished with a maximum sentence of up to six months imprisonment or a fine up to 8, 100 euros, libel with up to one year imprisonment or a fine of 8, 100 euros, intentional libel or slander with up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to 20, 250 euros, and insult with a sentence of up to three months imprisonment or a fine of up to 4, 050 euros.

In Norway, ordinary defamation is a criminal offence punishable with up to three months’ imprisonment if committed against an individual In France, defamation is a criminal offense punishable with a fine of up to 12, 000 euros.

As it transpires from samples of the examined legislative provisions, all cases of insults and defamation are criminal acts, and France has the most liberal laws. Germany applies the most severe punishments for an insult and defamation, especially in cases involving public officials or symbols of state, which is a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment. As for alternative punishments in terms of fines, Azerbaijan has a minimum fine, while the largest ones can be found in Germany with a hypothetical maximum amount of 10.8 million euros.

Thus, defamation rules still exist in European countries and these rules are milder in Azerbaijan compared to those in the analyzed countries. However, it is dear that while the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report recommends decriminalizing defamation, there are no such recommendations regarding the member states of the European Union in NAM reports. And this casts doubt on securing the principle of neutrality in the OSCE/ODIHR NAM report and reveals the demonstration of an outright biased position.

With regard to the media access of the candidates  during the elections in Azerbaijan, Netherlands, Norway and France, the comparative analysis shows that Netherlands, Germany, France and Azerbaijan provide free airtime for the participants in electoral campaigns. Germany allots the broadcasting time proportionally to the current parliamentary representation of the parties, thus favoring the larger parties and implicitly the ruling party. Azerbaijan, France and Netherlands provide for equal free airtime in slots determined by means of casting lots.

In Azerbaijan, in order to make small political parties’ access to the public, a mandatory minimum is defined by law. For its part, Netherlands grants responsibilities to this end to the Media Organization. Thus, provisions for candidates’ equal access to the media are dearly in line with accepted current procedures the Western countries apply. Taking into account the above analysis, we can come to a conclusion that the concerns expressed with regard to the media access are unfounded. Pro­ visions made by Azerbaijan are on a par with those made by the Western countries.

I would like to note that the laws that are subject to discussions and  even criticism on several occasions in the OSCE/ ODIHR NAM report are at least on a par with similar laws of the established Western countries. Moreover, the fact that the criticism in the report are based on the allegations and considerations expressed by the interested parties, but not on the accurate factual data, and the reference to non-existing and possible potential pressures, is an indication of non-objectivity and the violation of neutrality. Legislations in most EU countries on certain matters (for example, defamation rules) are stricter compared to Azerbaijan. These issues were criticized in the NAM report with regard to Azerbaijan, whereas this is not the case in reports on other EU member states. 1hls proves the application of double standards and a biased approach against Azerbaijan by the OSCE/ODIHR.

3.4. The PACE mission as the only official European observation mission in the 2015 parliamentary elections

At that time, there were quite powerful anti-Azerbaijani forces in PACE. These forces were trying by all means to prevent PACE from observing the 2015 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan.

On the other hand, the European Parliament, the OSCE PA and the OSCE/ODIHR were not just rejecting to observe the 1 November 2015 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan but these international institutions were also putting strong pressure on PACE to make it avoid from observing the elections. The sole purpose of such an unfair isolation was to form a negative image of Azerbaijan worldwide, put political pressure on our country under the pretext of human rights issues, to destabilize the country and make us to forget the fate of our occupied territories.

Simultaneously, the European Parliament, PACE, as well as the OSCE PA knew very well that their positive assessment of the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections in Azerbaijan was real and Azerbaijan was confidently moving in the way of democracy. Simply, they did not want to see this reality once again and declare it to the world and to witness democratic, transparent and free elections in Azerbaijan. Therefore, they were trying to blackmail Azerbaijan by means of isolation and political pressure.

PACE under pressure scorned thrice own decisions on sending an observation mission to the 1 November 2015 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan. To this end, the decision on this issue, adopted in the PACE Bureau and approved at the session, was repeatedly referred up to the Bureau for consideration.

Thus, during PACE’s June session, it was decided to send an election observation mission (EOM) to observe the 2015 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan. The election observation mission was made up of 32 people, namely, 30 PACE members and two co-rapporteurs. Jordi Xucla, the leader of the ALDE Group, was appointed the head of PACE election observation mission.

Even in June, the plenary meeting of the Assembly during the discussion of “The functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan” report mentioned the possibility for other European institutions to revoke decisions to send election observation missions to Azerbaijan.

The Assembly made a decision by voting that in case if other European institutions cancel sending an EOM to Azerbaijan, PACE should increase its mission. The Assembly also rejected a proposal to review the issue of sending PACE EOM in case the OSCE/ODIHR did not do so. Thus, taking steps that opposed PACE’s latest decision and a proposal to cancel this decision was a very bad political practice. This was disrespect for the Assembly and to the Council of Europe as a whole.

On the other hand, PACE had a practice to observe the elections as the only Western institution. The OSCE/ODIHR, the OSCE PA and the European Parliament had not sent observation missions to the 2 March 2008 presidential election in the Russian Federation. The PACE observation mission was the only official Western election observation mission in this election and Swiss MP Andreas Gross (SOC) was heading the PACE EOM.

Despite the abovementioned, at the June session, PACE President Anne Brasseur and Secretary General Sawicki on the formation of the observation mission made a note “in case if the OSCE/ODIHR is not invited” in the protocol. This note was about the reconsideration of this issue at the 31 August meetings of the Presidential Committee and the Bureau. Backed by the anti-Azerbaijani forces, under various pretexts, each time, Anne Brasseur and Wojciech Sawicki were seeking to gain reconsideration of the issue on observation of the 2015 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan and to cancel the previously adopted decision.

At the Bureau meeting on 31August 2015, this issue was re­ considered and the Bureau once again approved the composition of the organization’s election observation mission (EOM) for the parliamentary elections to be held in Azerbaijan. At that time, the Azerbaijani government had already invited the OSCE/ODIHR to observe the elections. Nevertheless, Sawicki made the next falsification to the protocol of the 31August Bureau meeting.

Without any prior consent of the Bureau and without any discussions, Sawicki included in the protocol of the Bureau meeting a phrase “…considered the situation against the background of an invitation of the OSCE/ODIHR”. And thus, he wanted to pave the way for the dependence between the PACE and the OSCE/ODIHR on the issue of sending the observation mission.

I should note that multiple “discussions” in PACE around the observation of the elections were the sign of discrimination against Azerbaijan and the reflection of double standards policy. Thus, PACE had a commitment to Azerbaijan on the observation of the elections. In addition, Azerbaijan is a state under PACE’s monitoring procedure. According to the Rules of Procedure, the observation of the elections in a member state under the monitoring procedure should be an inalienable right of the Assembly.

Therefore, the observation of the elections in Azerbaijan was of utmost importance not only for Azerbaijan, but also for PACE itself. Consequently, his would have proved PACE’s capability to build its relations with a member state on the basis of good and mutual understanding. This would have also confirmed that PACE was a genuine supporter of an open and constructive dialogue with Azerbaijan at the organizational level.

However, despite the growing anti-Azerbaijani campaign at European institutions, PACE’s pre-election mission paid a visit to Azerbaijan on 21-22 September. The mission held meetings with political parties represented in and out of the parliament, human rights defenders, NGOs, civil society activists and media representatives.

Even after this trip, enemies of Azerbaijan in PACE were again intending to realize their wish to reconsider the PACE decision on the EOM and to use every opportunity for the cancellation of this agreement. However, their malicious plans did not come true.

Consequently, the PACE observation mission, consisting of 32 members of five political groups, observed the parliamentary elections on 1 November 2015 and made the following assessment by issuing the below statement:

“The elections were held in accordance with the Election Code of Azerbaijan, which provides a legal framework for the democratic conduct of the elections. The Election Day was calm and peaceful across the country and that the voting process was observed to be adequate, and generally in line with international standards. The observation mission congratulates the people of Azerbaijan on holding calm and peaceful elections. The preparation for the elections and the voting processes were professionally and technically well organized. Throughout the Election Day, no major or systemic violations of the Election Code were observed. Summarizing its observations, the mission concluded that despite a number of shortcomings in the 1 November parliamentary elections, the significant increase in voter turnout and the increased transparency of voting and counting procedures demonstrated another step forward taken by the Republic of Azerbaijan towards free, fair and democratic elections. It also concluded that the result of this vote expressed the will of the Azerbaijani people.”

This assessment by the PACE uncovered the inner face of the European Parliament, the OSCE PA, and the OSCE/ODIHR that boycotted the 1 November elections, and consequently, exposed their malicious intentions. I should note that PACE was the only European parliamentary institution that sent official observation mission to Azerbaijan for the referendum on the amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan held on 26 September 2016.

The decision on sending an official PACE delegation for the observation of the referendum was taken at the meetings of the Presidential Committee and the Bureau held in early September. It was agreed to compose the PACE observation mission of the co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee and one member from each of the five political groups. Under the decision of the PACE Bureau, the formation of the delegation was mandated to PACE President Pedro Agramunt. After reaching an agreement with the chairpersons of the political groups on 15 September, he formed the official observation mission made up of seven members.

The PACE mission concluded that the referendum was organized in accordance with the country’s legislation and the constitution of Azerbaijan and it was legal and legitimate. The statement by PACE mission highlighted that the results of the referendum on amendments to the constitution express the willingness of the people of Azerbaijan to take a step forward towards the secure, stable and sustainable development of their country and to target the establishment of a more efficient system of governance and the implementation of more meaningful reforms needed for the country to respond to the democratic and economic challenges facing it.

3.3.A campaign for isolation of Azerbaijan is under way in the European Parliament

The anti-Azerbaijani hysteria by leading pressure groups and international organizations has extremely intensified after the 2013 presidential election in Azerbaijan. Those forces made use of the elections for their malicious intentions and undertook serious attempts for international isolation of Azerbaijan.

One of such attempts manifested itself vividly in the European Parliament in mid-2015. The 11 June 2015 meeting of the European Parliament’s Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group was considering elections, slated for the second half of the year, and detailed discussions were under way on the election observation missions to be sent to the elections.

The co-chairs of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group, German MEP Elmar Brok (EPP) and British MEP Linda McAvan (Socialist) took the floor at the meeting and resolutely opposed sending an observation mission to the 2015 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan.

They attributed this to the observation of the 2013 Azerbaijani presidential election by the official and unofficial delegations of the European Parliament, and the summoning of the unofficial delegation members to the disciplinary commission. Elmar Brok and Linda McAvan said that sometimes, even despite the presence of the official delegation in Azerbaijan and other countries (e.g. Kazakhstan), in most cases, the position of the unofficial delegation differed from that of the official delegation of the European Parliament.

At the meeting, along with the rejection to form an official election observation mission, an instruction was issued to prepare a letter, informing all the parliamentarians that there would not be an official delegation to observe the elections, and unofficial observation of the elections by the MEPs would also be banned.

In a letter to Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament, on 30 June 2015, co-chairs Elmar Brok and Linda McAvan informed him that the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group at its 11 June 2015 meeting reviewed possible priority countries for dispatching election observation missions in the second half of 2015.

The letter highlighted that “the group did not choose Azerbaijan, where it is planned to hold the presidential election on 1 November 2015, to send an election observation mission, as the conditions have not been met for sending such a delegation. The group members agreed that the conditions for holding free and fair elections do not exist in Azerbaijan and limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association in the country make it impossible to create a level playing field for candidates and to organize a genuinely competitive vote.”

Building on their reasons, the co-chairs further  noted that “…if the EP receives an invitation from the Azerbaijani government to send an observation mission to the 1 November 2015 presidential election, the Group recommends to decline the invitation”.

The authors of the letter stated that the reasons behind this decision should be made public and stressed that a decision by MEPs to observe the elections on their own behalf would not only undermine the official position of this institution, but also, as it was the case in the past, if such participation is not announced, it would result in a violation of the Code of Conduct.

Though the co-chairs of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group claimed in their letter to EP President Mar­ tin Schultz that they kept abreast of the situation in Azerbaijan, they were repeatedly presenting the 1 November 2015 elections as the presidential election, whereas it was the parliamentary elections. It seemed doubtful if it was an accidental or a technical mistake.

What was surprising and regretting was that despite the EP, PACE and the OSCE PA observation missions positively assessed the 2013 elections and stated that it met fair and democratic standards, the co-chairs of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group voiced quite different and fabricated claim.

The Azerbaijani government sent an invitation to the OSCE/ ODIHR for observation of the parliamentary elections in 2015. The OSCE/ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) visited the country and prepared a report. The NAM suggested in the report that 30 long-term and 350 short-term observers to be sent for the observation of the elections. However, during the communications, the Azerbaijani government stated that the composition of the ODIHR election observation missions had changed as follows:

– 30 long-term and 500 short-term observers during the 2005 parliamentary elections;

– 28 long-term and 450 short-term observers during the 2008 presidential election;

– 22 long-term and 405 short-term observers during the 2010 parliamentary elections;

-30 long-term and 280 short-term observers during the 2013 presidential election;

Against the background of the current dynamics of the number of observers, the Azerbaijani government asked NAM to substantiate the suggestion with regard to the number of observers in the 2015 elections compared to the previous elections, the response was not satisfactory. Therefore, the Azerbaijani government did not accept the proposal of the NAM.

It is intriguing that immediately after the contradiction between the OSCE/ODIHR and the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, the European Parliament resorted to a new provocation – it adopted a non-objective, biased and urgent  resolution against Azerbaijan on 10 September 2015.

The adoption of such a political document without binding force was the next stage of the recent campaign in the European Parliament to isolate Azerbaijan from the international arena. Thus, the EP kicked off this campaign in June with a decision to rejecting observation of the elections in Azerbaijan.

What was worthy of attention was that the 10 September urgent resolution of the EP was adopted after the contradiction between the OSCE/ODIHR and the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry following the 31August 2015 report of the Needs Assessment Mission of the OSCE/ODIHR.

It was expected that the ideologists and authors of the EP’s urgent resolution would take advantage of the situation for extending the isolation campaign against Azerbaijan. Thus, in order to achieve its aim, the EP was not interested in the observation of the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan by other international organizations, first of all, by the OSCE/ODIHR, and was trying to prevent this by all means.

It should be noted that a vote on urgent resolutions usually takes place at the very end of the EP sessions, when a small number of MEPs are present. However, this time, an urgent draft resolution was put to the vote when there were many MEPs at the meeting hall. With 202 votes against and 72 abstentions, all together 274 MEPs did not support this resolution which indicated that the number of MEPs backing Azerbaijan was not low. But Azerbaijan was facing an extensive campaign and 365 MEPs supported this urgent resolution.

The authors of the biased urgent resolution in the EP were certain that the adoption of a harsh anti-Azerbaijani document, based on numerous fake reports, would trigger serious reactions by the Azerbaijani government and the public. By succeeding in the passage of this biased resolution, they were trying to force the Azerbaijani government to take concrete practical steps and suspend its participation in the Eastern Partnership program of the European Union.

Under their estimations, in case the Azerbaijani government makes a decision to suspend its participation in the Eastern Partnership program, the anti-Azerbaijani campaign would have been chainlike: the OSCE/ODIHR would take into account the contradiction with the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry over the number of observers and reject observing the elections. Under this scenario, following the OSCE/ODIHR’s rejection to observe the elections, the OSCE PA and PACE would change their decisions on the observation of the elections and respectively, reject to observe elections. Thus, under this scenario, none of the European structures (EP, OSCE, OSCE PA, and OSCE/ODIHR) would send official observation missions to Azerbaijan and the country would find itself in isolation.

Indeed, by referring to the press service of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry on 11 September 2015, the media in the country said that for the EP’s biased resolution, “the next week’s visit by a delegation of the European Union Commission for the preliminary talks on the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan was postponed by Azerbaijan”. This in­ formation also said that”… generally, we should reconsider the relations with the European Union where the anti-Azerbaijan and anti-Islamic tendencies are strong”.

Moreover, it became clear on 11 September that the OSCE/ ODIHR would not send an official election observation mission to Azerbaijan if the latter did not accept the recommendations with regard to the number of observers advised by the Needs Assessment Mission Report (30 long-term observers and 350 short-term observers).

Nevertheless, as the OSCE/ODIHR NAM failed to substantiate its suggestion about the number of the observers for the 2015 elections as compared to the number of observers in the previous elections, the government of Azerbaijan did not accept this suggestion. At this pretext, on 11September the OSCE/ ODIHR rejected to observe the 2015 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan.

Given the current situation, the OSCE PA leadership referred to the “Cooperation agreement between the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE Bureau for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights” from 2 September 1997 in Copenhagen and stated that it would not observe the elections, too.

Thus, in line with the plans of the anti-Azerbaijan forces, this decision of the EP should initiate the next stage of the campaign to isolate Azerbaijan ahead of the 2015 parliamentary elections. After the European Parliament, in September 2015, under various pretexts the OSCE/ODIHR and the OSCE PA refused to ob­ serve the elections slated for November in Azerbaijan. When the OSCE/ODIHR reached a decision on rejecting the observation of the elections, anti-Azerbaijan forces hoped that all international organizations would follow the suit.

3.2. Maidan plans devised for Baku fail…

Certain forces were attempting to destabilize the 2013 pre­ and-post election stability in Azerbaijan in an attempt to trigger the Ukraine-style “Maidan” anti-government protests in Baku. One of such directions, aimed at undermining stability in Azerbaijan, was to claim discrimination against various ethnic groups – citizens of this country.

In this context, we should underscore the event “Azerbaijan’s Presidential Election: What future for the Land of Fire?” organized by the Euronest PA Bureau member Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, in the European Parliament on 3 October 2013, just six days prior to the vote.

What were peculiarities of the event, organized by Gerben­ Jan Gerbrandy, was that mostly the opposition officials and representatives of ethnic minorities, chanting separatist slogans, were invited. The event voiced absurd claims about the alleged discrimination against ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan.

In general, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy-hosted event was mainly aimed at destabilizing public order, provoking ethnic confrontation and unrest in Azerbaijan. As is known, Azerbaijan is a country, where numerous ethnic and religious groups live peacefully; neither ethnic, nor religious confrontation has ever occurred in this country throughout its history. For own national, ethnic, religious tolerance, Azerbaijan is among exemplary countries worldwide. Therefore, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy’s efforts were doomed to fail and did not reach the target.

Another provocative step was taken in the European Parliament after the presidential election. A resolution on the European Neighborhood Policy was passed in the European Parliament on 23 October 2013. Item 23 of the resolution noted that the 2013 presidential election in Azerbaijan did not meet the OSCE standards.

It was inconceivable why the resolution contained such a claim on the 2003 presidential election in Azerbaijan, though the European Parliamentary observation mission positively assessed the election. In their joint statement on the outcome of the 2013 election, the observation missions of the PACE and the European Parliament noted that “the election was free, fair and transparent in accordance with the standards of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and progress was made towards democracy”.

However, the European Parliament demonstrated disrespect for and distrust in the assessment of its observation mission on the election and took a decision based on the results of another institution. Taking such a decision was a shameful and unprecedented event in the practice of the international institutions, including the European Parliament. It was the decision which cast a doubt on the independent decision-making capacity of the European Parliament. And the same decision indicated that under the influence of external forces, the European Parliament will not be capable of pursuing an unbiased policy towards Azerbaijan in future.

A moment worth of attention is that the members of the European Parliament, who were unaware of the Azerbaijani presidential election, played a crucial role in the adoption of item 32. It seems that as a result of the efforts of the anti-Azerbaijani forces, angry about the positive assessment of the 2013 presidential election by the observation mission, the leadership of the European Parliament included a provision in the item 32 of the draft resolution, claiming that the election was not held in accordance with the OSCE standards and did not meet the requirements of the OSCE. The leadership of the European Parliament and MEPs forgot about the positive assessments of the OSCE Chairperson, Leonid Kozhara, the EP, the PACE, the OSCE PA, as well as other international observation missions dated from 10 October. Perhaps, this positive assessment made them angry.

However, the European Parliament should take into consideration that the ODIHR is the only of the numerous institutions of the OSCE. Though three of the four international institutions – the European Parliament, PACE and the OSCE PA that observed the elections, presented positive assessments, the approval of the biased resolution of the observation missions of OSCE/ODIHR made up of low-ranking officials, demonstrated disloyalty to the mission of the EP members, and as a whole, great damage, discredit and distrust to the EP, PACE and the OSCE PA.

The fact-free report of the OSCE/ODIHR pursued a single aim: to fulfil the instructions of high-ranking officials, to serve the interests of power centers with regard to Azerbaijan, to form a negative image of Azerbaijan in international arena, and through libels and slanders oblige Azerbaijan to give up the territories under occupation for over 25 years. However, these forces did not realize an obvious reality that irrespective of pressure and threats, the Azerbaijani state will continue its independent policy, and as now, it will retain its leading role as a driving regional force.

Despite Azerbaijan’s strict insistence and resolute demands, the European Parliament and other international institutions still deceive the people of Azerbaijan and the international community with unimplemented resolutions that have not applied any sanctions against Armenia for retaining our territories under occupation for more than 25 years.

Responding to my letter from 11 July 2013, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz wrote that “this complicated issue should be resolved by Azerbaijan and Armenia them­ selves”. It was hypocritical response.

Despite the abovementioned facts, a while after the 2013 presidential election in Azerbaijan, the head of the EP election observation mission, Pino Arlacchi, drew up a final report on the election in Azerbaijan and submitted it to the European Parliament. In this report, the EP election observation mission once again confirmed that the presidential election in Azerbaijan were held in a democratic, free and transparent environment and in accordance with the OSCE and the Council of Europe standards. Thus, the activities of the official election observation missions in Azerbaijan came to an end. The European Parliament delegation was made up of the head of delegation, Pino Arlacchi, with delegation members Filip Kaczmarek, Joachim Zeller, Evgeni Kirilov, Norica Nicolai, Fiorello Provera and Milan Cabrnoch.

I would also like to draw your attention to the facts that along with the members of the official election observation mission of the European Parliament, a number of MEPs also observed the 2013 presidential elections in Azerbaijan as members of the other international observation missions. They observed the elections as part of the delegations of international NGOs, in other words, they had been the members of the unofficial observation missions. Advisory Committee of the European Parliament invited them to the hearing on 11 February 2014 and accused them of violating the Code of Conduct.

I should say that the Advisory Committee of the European Parliament began functioning after the adoption of the Code of Conduct of the EP members in 2012. The Committee consists of 5 permanent and 2 alternate members. At that time, permanent members were Carlo Casini (EPP, Italy), Evelyn Regner (SD, Austria), Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, Sweden), Gerald  Hafner (Greens, Germany) and Sajjad Karim (ECR, United Kingdom), with alternate  members Jiri Mastalka (UEL, Czech Republic) and Francesco Speroni (EFD, Italy).

As the outcome of the hearings at the Advisory Committee with regard to MEPs, who violate the Code of Conduct, the committee can appeal to the EP President with suggestions either to demand the acquittal, or the punishment of MEPs. It should be noted that an MEP, who violates the Code of Conduct, can be subject to punishments, such as the suspension of salaries, deprivation from some activities in the European Parliament and exclusion from the MEP office.

The MEPs, who observed the presidential election in Azerbaijan in the observation mission of the international NGOs, were invited to the hearings of the Advisory Committee on 11 February. The MEPs, who visited Azerbaijan as part of the unofficial observation missions, were groundlessly accused of being funded and receiving expensive gifts. Although four months have passed since the election, making such allegations indicated that a number of world power centers had an intention of continuing exerting pressure on Azerbaijan in a new format and content.

Thus, as an outcome of the 9 October presidential election in Azerbaijan, those power centers were trying to introduce Azerbaijan as an authoritarian country with illegitimate authorities. However, their malicious wishes did not come true and the people of Azerbaijan made their choice and except one mission, all other international election missions, confirmed that the presidential election in Azerbaijan were held democratically and transparently.

One of the main objectives of the power centers with unending pressure on Azerbaijan is to inflict damage on Azerbaijan’s international standing, presenting it as an authoritarian country, engaging the Azerbaijani public with similar issues and by making continuous biased claims, distracting its attention from the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts under Armenian occupation for over 20 years. All these overt and covert activities were to make Azerbaijan to give up the territories under occupation. On the other hand, by projecting a negative image of Azerbaijan, those power centers are trying to guarantee their own interests in the country.

In my view, one of the key factors behind the emergence of such claims was to make Azerbaijan to join the Association Agreement under duress, otherwise, to send out a signal to Azerbaijan that the unfolding developments in Ukraine might also occur in Azerbaijan.

What was regretful was that the European Parliament never avoided from damaging reputation of own members in order to achieve its goals. Though it considers Azerbaijan a partner of the European Union by word of mouth, in reality, it was implementing filthy plans against Azerbaijan.

I believe one of the factors behind the claims against the EP members observing the elections in unofficial capacity was to deprive Azerbaijan of foreign support after being sure that power centers would not be able to destabilize domestic situation in Azerbaijan and to isolate it from international community.

By supporting pressure exerted on the MEPs with objective attitudes towards Azerbaijan, the power centers were obliging loyal friends of Azerbaijan to reconsider their positions. Thus, putting forward allegations against the MEPs, who observed the elections in unofficial missions, and holding hearings in the Advisory Committee to this end should be assessed as part of de-facto persecution campaign against parliamentarians, as well as foreign public figures loyal to Azerbaijan in order to deprive Azerbaijan of international support.

On 11 February 2014, the day when the Advisory Committee of the European Parliament was holding hearings, Russia’s influential newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried a sensational article, titled “West is preparing Maidan in Baku”.

The article said that western human rights defenders included the pressing problems on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan on their agenda. Ahead of the first European Games of historic importance for Azerbaijan, local experts warned in advance that the local NGOs collaborating with Western institutions would intensify their activities.

The article underscored that a high-ranking visit to Sochi during the winter Olympics was not a coincidence as Baku is diligently studying the experience in the conduct of the games. Thus, Azerbaijan will host the first European Games, and at the moment, the country is preparing for hosting European guests, as well as for the grandiose opening  and dosing ceremonies of the European  Games.

At the same time, Nezavisimaya Gazeta draws attention to the likelihood of some countries and international institutions to continue turning sports into the hostage of politics. In her interview to Radio Freedom, Rebecca Vincent, Executive Director of International Human Rights Club, noted that during the Winter Olympic Games the world’s attention would be focused on Sochi, adding that “the preparations for and the conduct of the Olympic Games and cases of corruption were in the spotlight. The attention will be shifted to Baku after Sochi. There left almost 500 days till the beginning of the first European Games to be held in Baku for the first time in history.”

The newspaper said that Rebecca Vincent was an employee of the U.S. embassy to Azerbaijan. However, she stopped working on human rights issues in Azerbaijan after quitting the State Department. She was actively helping local NGOs.

Quoting the local media, Nezavisimaya Gazeta claimed that ahead of the 2015 European Games, Rebecca Vincent in concert with foreign intelligence services was working on a new strategy against Azerbaijan. According to the newspaper, she did not deny it herself, adding that international focus would be on Baku ahead of the Games and that they would spotlight human rights situation  in Azerbaijan. In her words, this time Azerbaijan’s problems will not be scrutinized from far away, and from this point of view, it would be necessary for the international community to make important steps.

The article read that it was possible to suppose what measures Rebecca Vincent had in mind. Thus, the conduct of protests ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest, as well as attempts to foment a revolution on Facebook in the run up to the 2013 presidential elections is not a remote history. Referring to local analysts, Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that then a number of European countries as well as the U.S. were extensively funding local NGOs that could create problems for the Azerbaijani government to realize their strategic interests.

Thus, insistent appeals to rely on the OSCE/ODIHR without paying attention to the assessment of unofficial observation mission of the European Parliament, the punishment of the observers, who were the members of the unofficial international missions in 2013 presidential election, was an integral part of the sabotage and unrest plans against Azerbaijan. It seems that after the positive assessment of the elections, they were very frustrated that the sabotage plans, such us creating the next Maidan events in Azerbaijan, as well as, turning the country into the situation unfolding in Syria and Livia failed.

However, the European Parliament continued its isolation campaign against Azerbaijan even during the 11 April 2018 presidential election. Thus, the European Parliament did not send an official observation mission to Baku. However, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) in the European Parliament was invited to observe the elections. The delegation composed of 3 members, namely, Mr. Ryszard Czarnecki and Mr. Kosmo Zlotowski (Poland), and Mr. David Campbell Bannerman (United Kingdom). On 10 April 2018, they arrived in Baku and issued a statement on 12 April. ln the statement, the ECR delegation noted that “the election was held in a professional and legal manner and in a peaceful, free and transparent environment”.

Co-chairs of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group of the European Parliament David McAllister and Linda McAvan sent a letter to the leadership of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) and to the Europe­ an Parliament on 13 April2018, saying that “a clear and unanimous decision was taken against sending an official European Parliament delegation to observe the elections, given the worsening democratic environment in the country. A statement was released, confirming that the European Parliament would not be sending a delegation and none of its members was mandated to observe or comment on the process on its behalf”.

By pointing on sending delegation following the invitation for observation of the elections in Azerbaijan, co-chairs of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group of the European Parliament said that “while acknowledging the right of any political group to send a delegation to third countries during elections, we consider the act of sending “observers” to countries, in which the EP explicitly stated it would not observe elections, is extremely detrimental to the image of the European Parliament”.

They noted that “such “fake” missions undermine the integrity of the European Parliament and irreparably damage its credibility as a highly-respected actor in the field of the election observation”. The letter especially highlights that “the effusive remarks by the ECR Group delegation members on the management and running of the elections are blatantly contradicted the preliminary findings of the OSCE/ODIHR mission composed of internationally recognized experienced, professional and independent experts and observers, who have been present on the ground throughout the country and the entire electoral campaign, follow a rigorous methodology tested many times over the last decade”.

Later, the co-chairs drew attention to the following decision, made by the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group: “We are writing to inform you that Mr. Ryszard Czarnecki, Mr. David Campbell Bannerman and Mr. Kosma Zlotowski will no longer be allowed to take part in any further official European Parliament election observation delegations for the remainder of this mandate. This decision is with immediate effect”.

So, it is clear that the members of the ECR delegation – Mr. Ryszard Czarnecki, Mr. David Campbell Bannerman and Mr. Kosma Zlotowski – were punished for observing the presidential election in Azerbaijan. “It is said that the contradiction between the thoughts of the ECR delegation members and preliminary findings of the OSCE/ODIHR mission” is taken as a major cause for their punishment. And the adoption of the decision on their punishment for observing the presidential election in Azerbaijan was circulated in the world media at lightning speed.

Nevertheless, the opinion in the letter, expressing that the OSCE/ODIHR mission was made up of internationally-recognized experienced, professional, independent experts and observers, is surprising and disappointing. Thus, it is known that the mission of the OSCE/ODIHR usually consists of low­ ranking and less independent officials. Therefore, at least, it is not comprehensible that the European parliamentarians with a large number of voters and accountable to them were punished for their opinions that contradicted the position of the OSCE/ ODIHR mission comprised of low-ranking officials.