[:en]Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC), Rapporteur for Media Freedom and the Safety of Journalists at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), PACE Rapporteur on Monitoring of Azerbaijan in an exclusive interview with Turan, shares his assessments of the situation in the country.
Turan: You expressed concern about the arrests of journalists in Turkey and Azerbaijan. You called on both Turkey and Azerbaijan to stop urgently attacks on journalists in order to uphold the standards set by the Council of Europe and adhere to the values promoted by this Organization. You called the situation terrifying and unacceptable. What is in the base of this assessment?
Stefan Shennak: The facts indicate that 95 journalists and bloggers were arrested in Turkey, and 10 in Azerbaijan. I am very concerned about this situation, and in my statement I asked both countries to immediately stop this practice and release journalists in accordance with Council of Europe standards.
Question: International organizations point to the use by the authorities of a pandemic to combat dissent in a number of countries. You and your Azerbaijani monitoring colleague Roger Gale have expressed concern that the authorities are pursuing their critics under the pretext of fighting a pandemic.
However, there were political repressions in Azerbaijan before the pandemic. What is the connection between the persecution of political opponents and the pandemic?
Stefan Schennach: Yes, we specifically watched this situation in Azerbaijan. In recent weeks, we have very closely followed this, and we are deeply concerned about what is happening in Baku. This concerns the situation with Covid-19 and the situation in prisons.
I cannot understand why Azerbaijan acts in a similar way against political opponents after the last parliamentary elections. We are talking about the isolation of the leader of the Popular Front party, and the arrest of other activists. All this continued during the pandemic, without stopping.
We intend to come; now it is impossible, but we will come soon.
Question: President Ilham Aliyev said at a government meeting in mid-April that the CE and PACE slander Azerbaijan and undermine its credibility. He also said that the resolutions and decisions adopted by these structures are just a piece of paper. What do you rely on in this situation? Do not you feel like a voice crying in the desert?
Stefan Schennach: This is not the first time we have heard this. If the government thinks that such things are useful for the country, its further development, then this is not so.
PACE is not annoying; I think this is a political tactic against our criticism. We have expressed in various statements our deepest concerns. The European Union has done the same.
But we also welcomed the judicial procedures in Azerbaijan regarding human rights, such as the acquittals of Ilgar Mammadov and Rasul Jafarov. In any case, the Azerbaijani government should not forget that our resolutions are not a piece of paper.
Question: Is a dialogue between the EU, PACE and Azerbaijan possible if there are mutual accusations and harsh expressions?
Stefan Schennach: It is possible, but the harsh tone from Azerbaijan is really useless. The same goes for the authorities’ statements about the internal situation. All opposition parties or NGOs cannot be called enemies.
Dialogue is the only way to discuss. I hope the government will return to this dialogue.
Question: What would you, as a PACE representative, propose to President Aliyev in order to eliminate distrust and establish a constructive dialogue between the Council of Europe and Azerbaijan?
Stefan Schennach: I hope that the government will fully cooperate with the PACE rapporteurs, because we should report on this at the next plenary meeting. For a Member State, such as Azerbaijan, which is being monitored, this should be taken into account and cooperated.
This would be a manifestation of professionalism on the part of a member of organizations such as CE and PACE.