Turan: The Azerbaijani authorities have voluntarily undertaken to respect freedom of expression when joining the Council of Europe, and its current restrictions in the country cause deep concern. This was stated by the co-rapporteur of the PACE Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan Stephen Schennach in an interview with the Azerbaijani service of the Voice of America, commenting on the arrests of activists in Azerbaijan after the July 15 rally.

According to him, in recent months, the situation with freedoms in Azerbaijan has seriously deteriorated, noting the massive detentions of PFPA members, which began long before July 15.

“I don’t know why this is happening. This party is not even represented in parliament. They also have the right to express their position. This is normal in a democracy,” said Schennach.

Referring to the arrest of PFPA Presidium member Fuad Gahramanli, he noted that he had met with him. “I met with him during his previous arrest and after his release. He is not an anarchist or a destructive element. On July 31, we (three PACE rapporteurs) condemned the latest arrests in Azerbaijan, and now we call for the immediate release of Gahramanli,” Schennach said.

When asked if the co-rapporteur had information about torture, he replied as follows:

“We addressed the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE on this issue, but received a very cold letter addressed to the chairman of the Monitoring Committee.

The response says about the inadmissible activities of two co-rapporteurs. But we are just doing our job, and our job is to listen to the entire spectrum of society, including civil society and human rights defenders. The government should be aware that this is our duty. I have been a speaker on Azerbaijan for five years now and I am in contact with many parties. This includes the opposition parties and the President himself,” said Schennach.

When asked to comment on the possibility of sanctions against Azerbaijan, Schennach said he did not share this approach.

“Perhaps this can be accepted in the European Union. In the Council of Europe, we are fighting for our values, the rule of law, democracy, human rights and freedom. I don’t think that it makes sense to exclude the country from the Council, because the Azerbaijani government needs the help of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights to understand what a republic and democracy are. This means respect for human rights, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press,” said Schennach.