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Helsinki Commission Members Denounce Azerbaijan Crackdown, Call for Pluralism and Democracy

WASHINGTON – Members of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today denounced a May 21 political crackdown in Azerbaijan and called on President Ilham Aliev to speed up political reform in his country.

“The events of May 21 in Azerbaijan are particularly troubling as that country prepares for critical elections,” said Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the Commission, “I personally spoke with President Aliev a few weeks ago, and he promised reforms in the lead up to these elections. The kind of violence we saw in Baku is inexcusable and disappointing.”

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

“What happened in Azerbaijan is very disturbing,” noted Helsinki Commission Co-Chair, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). “With parliamentary elections due in Azerbaijan in November, I am afraid that we are seeing a repeat pattern of what happened before the elections there in 2003. The recent actions by the authorities are a flagrant breech of that country’s obligations under the Helsinki Final Act and are unacceptable.”

After the November 2003 presidential election, various international organizations and NGOs, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), issued reports recommending changes to Azerbaijani election laws and procedures. These recommendations have yet to be implemented.

“President Aliev and his government know what they need to do,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “Azerbaijan has had nearly two years to reform. Thirteen years after independence, the legacy of the past continues and much needed political reforms have yet to be pursued in earnest.”

On May 21, Azerbaijani officials beat up and arrested participants in a peaceful opposition rally in the capital city of Baku. According to reports, the Ugur (Success) opposition bloc was denied permission to hold such a rally notwithstanding a May 12 order from President Aliev instructing government authorities to respect freedom of assembly. Opposition party members were reportedly beaten by police armed with batons when they attempted to peacefully gather for the rally. Further reports indicate that at least 30 opposition and youth movement activists were arrested and detained for five days. There are also reports that journalists were beaten.

“President Aliev personally promised me his government would respect basic political and human rights,” added Chairman Brownback. “Now is the time to match words with deeds. I urge President Aliev to publicly condemn the violent crackdown in Baku and to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms, including freedom of assembly, without harassment or intimidation.”

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