Institute for Peace and Democracy introduced amendments and additions to the draft of resolution of the PACE
«The functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan»



Azerbaijan: call for stronger parliamentary control over the executive, plus an independent judiciary
http://www.assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=6766&lang=2&cat=3

07/09/2017
Monitoring

While welcoming the ongoing dialogue with the Azerbaijani authorities in the framework of the PACE’s monitoring procedure, the Monitoring Committee has expressed a number of concerns regarding, in particular, checks and balances, the functioning of the judiciary and freedom of expression and association.

In particular, the committee regrets the fact that the recent constitutional changes could make the executive less accountable to parliament and that judicial independence vis-à-vis the executive remains inadequate. At the same time, the parliamentarians welcomed the President of the Republic’s Executive Order on improvement of operation of the prison system and humanisation of criminal policies, and called on the authorities to quickly implement it.

Adopting a draft resolution based on a report by Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC) and Cezar Florin Preda (Romania, EPP/CD), the committee expressed concern about reports linking the Azerbaijani government to a large-scale money laundering scheme occurring in the years 2012 to 2014, used inter alia to influence the work of members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as regards the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. It urged the Azerbaijani authorities to start an independent and impartial inquiry into these allegations without delay and cooperate fully with competent international authorities and bodies on this issue.

The committee is also worried by the reported prosecution and ongoing detention of NGO leaders, human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, bloggers and lawyers, while welcoming the release in 2016 and 2017 of some so-called “political prisoners”/“prisoners of conscience”. It called on the authorities to release those prisoners whose detention gives rise to justified doubts. It is also concerned about allegations of a restrictive climate for the activities of the extra-parliamentary opposition and limitations imposed on freedom of assembly.

The committee therefore calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to promptly ensure full implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights; strengthen parliamentary control over the executive; pursue the reforms of the judiciary and the prosecution service so as to ensure full independence of the judiciary from the executive; enable journalists to work freely without any pressure being exerted on them; and create an environment conducive to the activities of NGOs, including those expressing critical opinions.

The functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan
http://website-pace.net/documents/19887/3258251/20170907-AzerbaijanInstitutions-EN.pdf/1e6f0d15-1836-428b-a0c9-7f41ac8ece87

Report
Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)
Co-rapporteurs: Mr Stefan Schennach, Austria, SOC, and Mr Cezar Florin Preda, Romania, EPP/CD

A. Draft resolution

1. The Assembly welcomes the readiness expressed by the authorities to engage in reform processes in the field of human rights and the rule of law and the ongoing dialogue with the authorities in the framework of the Assembly’s monitoring procedure. However the Assembly insists that this should lead to concrete results. The Assembly stands ready to provide support for the reform processes and their implementation in compliance with European standards.

2. The Assembly reiterates that respect for the principle of the separation of powers is essential and emphasises the need to develop the oversight function of the parliament over the executive in Azerbaijan. The Assembly shares the view of the Venice Commission that recent constitutional changes could make the executive less accountable to parliament.

3. The Assembly considers that the justice system in Azerbaijan must be really independent, impartial and free from interference by the executive. As recommended and acknowledged by GRECO and the CEPEJ, the extensive powers granted to the Judicial Legal Council in matters related to the appointment, promotion and disciplining of judges are to be welcomed but there are still concerns regarding the Judicial Legal Council’s composition and the fact that the executive branch continues to retain prerogatives for key senior appointments. While noticeable progress has been achieved regarding appraisal, training and ethics of prosecutors, the Assembly remains concerned about the presidential oversight of the Prosecutor’s Office.
The Assembly welcomes the progress in the procedure for the selection of new judges through which 60% of the sitting judges have been selected.

This is some kind of delusion. In Azerbaijan, there is not a single independent judge. What progress has the Assembly welcomed? This is an incorrect proposal, it is better to remove it.

4. The Assembly recalls that judicial independence and impartiality are prerequisites of a criminal justice system that is compliant with European standards. As underscored by the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, the Assembly notes with concern that much more effective measures have to be taken to strengthen judicial independence vis-à-vis the executive and prosecutors. Shortcomings highlighted by the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence concerning prosecutors’ actions, endorsement by the courts of prosecution’s requests, ineffective investigations, non-respect for presumption of innocence and of inequality of arms have also not yet been addressed.

5. While welcoming the ongoing reform initiated by the President of the Republic’s Executive Order on “improvement of operation of the prison system, humanisation of criminal policies and extension of application of alternative sanctions and non-custodial preventive measures”, the Assembly calls on the authorities to quickly adopt and apply the legislation required for its implementation. The Assembly remains concerned about allegations on the excessive use of pre-trial detention that should be the exception rather than the norm and on the absence of alternative sanctions. Changes in practice will primarily depend on the level of judicial independence and changes in the way law enforcement bodies work during investigations.

The political prisoners always recived the wrongful and groundless pre-trial detention:
Use of pre-trial detention from May till September 2017.

1. Gozel Bayramli, member of Popular Front Party -on May 26, 2017, Baku City Sabail District court gave of 3 months pre-trial detention
2. Afghan Muxtarli, journalist - on May 31, 2017, Baku City Sabail District Court gave of 3 months pre-trial detention
3. Aziz Orujov, journalist - on June 1, 2017 Baku City Nasimi District Court gave 4 months pre-trial detention

6. The Assembly is concerned by the reported problem of arbitrary application of criminal legislation to limit freedom of expression, as highlighted by the Committee of Ministers in the framework of its supervision of the European Court of Human Right’s judgments.
In 2013-2017, 20 journalists and bloggers were arrested on criminal charges (drug trafficking, hooliganism). There are so-called group of "prisoners of facebook", young people who go to prison because of criticizing the policy of the authorities in Facebook. Today, we have 15 journalists and bloggers in prison:
1. Araz Guliyev, blogger on April 05, 2013 sentenced to 8 years in prison
2. Nidjat Aliyev, blogger on December 09, 2013 sentenced to 10 years in prison
3. Rashad Ramazanov, blogger on December 10, 2013 sentenced to 9 years in prison
4. Ilkin Rustamzadeh, blogger on May 06, 2014 sentenced to 8 years in prison

5. Seymur Hazi, journalist on January 29, 2015 sentenced to 5 years in prison
6. Djavid Shiraliev, journalist on May 20,2015 sentenced to 5 years in prison
7. Asad Shakarli, journalist on May 16, 2016 sentenced to 10 years in prison
8. Tofik Hasanov, blogger on August 22, 2016 sentenced to 6 years in prison
9. Afgan Sadikov, journalist on January 12, 2017 sentenced to 2,5 years in prison
10. Elgiz Gahramanov, blogger, on January 16, 2017 sentenced to 5,5 years in prison
11. Mehman Huseynov, blogger on March 3, 2017 sentenced to 2 years in prison
12. Fikret Faramazoglu, journalist on June 14,2017 sentenced to 7 years in prison
13. Elcin Ismayilli, journalist - on September 18, 2017 sentenced to 9 years in prison.
14. Afghan Muxtarli, journalist - on May 31, 2017, Baku City Sabayil District Court gave of 3 months pre-trial detention
15. Aziz Orujov, journalist - on June 1, 2017 Baku City Nasimi District Court gave 4 months pre-trial detention

7. The Assembly recalls its Resolution 2178 (2017) on the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. It notes that more than 120 judgments of the Court against Azerbaijan have not yet or only partially been implemented. The Assembly notes that little progress has been made with regard to the implementation of certain groups of judgments, in particular concerning ill-treatment, violations of the right to a fair trial, freedom of expressions and freedom of assembly and association.
No progress was achieved. Torture became more severe In November 2015, 4 people died as a result of torture, and in April-May 2017, 7 people died as a result of torture. These are the names of these seven:

1. Mehman Galandarov, blogger was arrested on February 07,2017, died after tortures on April 28, 2017, in Baku Detention Centre No. 1
2. Mehman Huseynov, born in 1987, was arrested on May 7, 2017 in his own house in Jamilli village of Tartar region. On May 16 his body was brought to his wife who is now raising her two little children alone.
3. Sahavat Binnatov was arrested on May 7, 2017 in his house in the village Jamilli of Tartar region. On May 17 the body of beaten to death Binnatov was returned to the family , also banned from burying him in the village cemetery. The place of burial is unknown.
4. Colonel Saleh Gafarov was arrested on May 12, 2017 in his own apartment. In four days- on May 16 his body was brought to the village and buried outside of the village by the police
5. Elchin Guliyev, resident of Tartar region was arrested on May 11, 2017. His body too was returned to the family on May 18.
6. Lieutenant Tamkin Nizamioglu, born in 1993, was arrested on May 12, 2017. His body was returned to his native village Darkand in Ordubad region (Nakchivan) in the sealed coffin. His family was not allowed to see the body or to bury him.
7. Soldier Dayandur Azizli, born in 1993, was arrested on May 12, 2017.His body was returned by police July20. His family was not allowed to see the body or to bury him.

But I think in reality died more than seven.

8. The Assembly is concerned about repressive actions against independent media and advocates of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. These actions are detrimental to effective media freedom and freedom of expression, undermine the safety of journalists and create a climate of violence against those who express divergent views. The Assembly is particularly worried by the recent amendments to the laws on internet regulation and courts’ decisions to block websites, and recalls the need for protection of fundamental rights in the digital area. The Assembly deplores the recent legislative changes, including criminal charges and prison sentences, concerning defamation on social media and reiterates its longstanding demand for decriminalisation of defamation.
9. While welcoming of the measures foreseen by the Presidential Order for the improvement of conditions in detention, the Assembly notes that prison overcrowding remains high and that living conditions in some prisons are still inadequate.

In addition to paragraph 7, I wrote about the death of 7 people from torture. There are not improvement of conditions in detention. “The measures foreseen by the Presidential Order for the improvement of conditions in detention” is just a bluff
There is no reform. Please give attention

Tortures in Gobustan prison in July -August 2017

The Gobustan prison is the prison for convicts for life imprisonment and for long periods of imprisonment. In Gobustan prison, prisoners are kept in cells. It is not allowed to walk, work, study prisoners there, meetings with relatives are rare.
In July- August 2017 Chief of the Gobustan prison Avtandil Agayev, his deputy Emin Jafarov, employees Ilkin Akhundov, Namig Agayev and workers named Rovshan, Igbal tortured the prisoners of so called “ Nardaran case”, sentenced to Gobustan prison. These officers personally tortured Abbas Huseynov, Taleh Bagirov, Jabbar Jabbarov and others.
A. Huseynov himself told the lawyer Yalchin Imanov about tourtures.
On July 22, 2017 he and another convicted Jabbar Jabbarov were taken to the Gobustan prison. As soon as they were brought there, they were immediately handcuffed and dragged along the asphalt.
Huseynov, Jabbarov and another prisoner were put face to face with a wall and kept under the scorching sun. When Huseynov announced his rights, he was told that "here is Gobustan".
An employee named Rovshan, pointing at Huseynov, said: "This person says a lot, explain all to him," after which he was beaten with a truncheon by the ensign Ilkin Akhundov. Then Huseynov was thrown into the punishment cell. Despite the fact that the period of detention in the punishment cell expired on July 29, Huseynov was held there until August 5.
In the punishment cell, the situation is terrible; worms and insects crawl along the floor, the toilet is there and absolute uncleanness reigns.
On July 25, Major Namiq Guliyev struck Huseynov with his fists in the stomach and in the face, threatening to torture him with an electric shock and mockingly saying: "A truncheon is an inseparable friend of a prisoner." When Huseynov said that he would complain, the major said that "let you complain where you want." Moreover, an act was drawn up about the alleged insult of the prison staff by Huseynov.
For 17 days in Gobustan prison, Huseynov was pronounced four reprimands. On July 26, he was taken out of the punishment cell under the pretext of meeting with the commander. However, in the courtyard of the prison, he was tied to an iron post and held for 3 hours under the scorching sun, his hands clasped in handcuffs.
On July 29, despite the completion of the detention in the punishment cell, Huseynov was returned to the punishment cell on the pretext that there were “no places in the quarantine”.
Abbas Huseynov said that on July 29, Taleh Bagirov, leader of the Movement “ Muslim Unity”, was brought to the Gobustan prison. He was kept in the next cell, and Huseynov heard how bad he was feeling. When Bagirov asked the warden Ilkin Akhundov to call a doctor, the warden began to insult the convict.
In response, Huseynov and Jabbarov began to protest, and other prisoners joined their protest, demanding that the warden be punished. A. Huseynov was threatened with sending to the so-called "tuberculosis zone" (prison for tuberculosis patients).
On August 5 Huseynov, in connection with the expiration of the "quarantine" term, was taken to the chief of the Gobustan prison Avtandil Agayev. When Huseynov began to talk about lawlessness, A.Agayev interrupted him and said: "Here is Gobustan - a place where rights end."
After that Huseynov was thrown to the floor, and Avtandil Agayev began to beat him with a truncheon. The chief of prison struck him 30-35 strokes, including on the head. After that Huseynov was put in a punishment cell for 8 days more. In the punishment cell he was knocked down, handcuffed on his arms and legs (actually crucified), and in this condition he was kept in a punishment cell for two days.
According to the lawyer Yalchin Imanov, there are many injuries and bruises on Huseynov's body - the back, the legs, the lower back and the knees. On the wrists and legs, there are traces of handcuffs. Huseynov moves with difficulty, limps on one leg and cannot sit.
On August 10, the lawyer of Abbas Hyseinov appealed to the Garadagh District Court. Judge Fuad Huseynov refused to consider the complaint.

10. The Assembly takes note of the internal supervision mechanism of the Ministry of Interior which has led, over the last five years, to disciplinary measures against 1 647 police officers, of which 156 were dismissed from the service, 139 demoted and 1 351 given warnings. The Assembly encourages the authorities to establish a gender balance also among police officers. The Assembly reiterates that an independent, impartial and effective complaints system for allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials is of fundamental importance for the enhancement of public trust and confidence in the law enforcement bodies and in the Azerbaijani justice system in general. It stresses the need to ensure that there is no impunity for misconduct or ill-treatment. It is of utmost importance that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly and thoroughly investigated. In this context, the Assembly deplores that to date, only four out of the ten reports on the visits of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to Azerbaijan have been made public and that there are still six unpublished reports, concerning the periodic visits in 2011 and 2016 and ad hoc visits in 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

All appeals to the courts about the use of torture are rejected by judges. August 10, 2017 judge of the Garadag District Court Fuad Huseynov dismissed the complaint of the lawyer of political prisoner Abbas Huseynov about torture in Gobustan prison .I wrote about these tortures in the appendix to paragraph No. 9

11. The Assembly welcomes the law on “Ethics Code of Members of National Parliament” to prevent corruption, which envisages measures on mandatory disclosure of conflicts of interests by MPs. However, the Assembly notes with great concern, reports linking the Azerbaijani government to a large scale money laundering scheme occurring in the years of 2012 until 2014, used inter alia to influence the work of members of the Assembly as regards the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. The Assembly urges the Azerbaijani authorities to start an independent and impartial inquiry into these allegations without delay and furthermore, cooperate fully with competent international authorities and bodies on this issue.

12. The legislative environment for the operation of non-governmental, non-commercial organisations, including the regulation of matters relating to their State registration, funding and reporting requirements has been restrictive and has been found not to be compliant with European standards by a number of Council of Europe bodies. The recent limited regulatory changes regarding grants do not fully address the legal barriers to the effective functioning and funding of NGOs. Based on existing legislation and practice, a number of local and international human rights NGOs have been prevented from operating, put under pressure and sometimes investigated. Some of the arrests, detentions and convictions of Azerbaijani human rights defenders appear to be the result of shortcomings in the NGO legislation and how it is implemented. In the light of the above, the Assembly calls on the authorities to continue the review of the law on non-governmental organisations with a view to addressing the concerns formulated by the Venice Commission and creating a better environment for NGOs to carry out their legitimate activities including those expressing critical opinions. The Assembly welcomes the establishment of the Open Government Partnership Dialogue Platform in cooperation with the international community to strengthen cooperation, communication and partnership among State bodies and civil society organisations and contribute to further expansion of OGP principles and values in Azerbaijan. The Assembly calls on the authorities to invite all civil society organisations, NGOs and political parties to contribute to this platform. Recalling that NGOs enrich the democratic processes, the Assembly calls on the authorities to facilitate and encourage their work.

13. The Assembly is concerned by allegations of a restrictive climate for the activities of the extra-parliamentary opposition and limitations imposed on freedom of assembly. The legislation and practice governing public assemblies, which lacks foreseeability and precision, leads to public assemblies allegedly being banned, including arbitrary arrest and detention of protesters, which creates a negative effect on the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly.

14. While welcoming the release - sometimes through presidential pardon - in 2016 and 2017 of some so-called “political prisoners”/“prisoners of conscience”, which it considers a positive first step, the Assembly remains concerned by the reported prosecution and ongoing detention of NGO leaders, human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, bloggers and lawyers, based on alleged charges in relation to their work. The Assembly expresses its concern that new arrests following releases would diminish the positive signals given by the releases.
According to the list of the "Center for Protection of Political Prisoners" in September 2017 there are 145 political prisoners in custody. The largest group of political prisoners in September 2017 is peaceful believers - 88 people.

15. Taking all these concerns and developments into account, the Assembly calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to:
15.1. promptly ensure full implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and cooperate more closely with the Committee of Ministers and Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights;

15.2. review the cases of the so-called “political prisoners”/”prisoners of conscience” detained on criminal charges following trials whose conformity with human rights standards has been called into question by the European Court of Human Rights, civil society and the international community, and use all possible means to release those prisoners whose detention gives rise to justified doubts and legitimate concerns; in particular but not exclusively Ilgar Mammadov, Ilkin Rustamzade, Mehman Huseynov, Afgan Mukhtarli, and Said Dadashbayli;

Currently, 15 journalists and bloggers remain in detention. The names of all 15 people I brought to paragraph № 6

And since 2007, in custody, innocently convicted 10 people from the so-called “ Said Dadashbeyli group”

1. Farid Agayev, in 2007 sentenced to 13 years in prison
2. Said Dadashbeyli, in 2007 sentenced to 14 years in prison
3. Jeyhun Aliyev, in 2007 sentenced to 14 years in prison
4. Rashad Aliyev, in 2007 sentenced to 14 years in prison
5. Mikail Idrisov, in 2007 sentenced to 12 years in prison
6. Jahangir Kerimov, in 2007 sentenced to 14 years in prison
7. Rasim Kerimov, in 2007 sentenced to 13 years in prison
8. Samir Gojayev, in 2007 sentenced to 13 years in prison
9. Beybala Guliyev, in 2007 sentenced to 13 years in prison
10. Emil Mehbaliyev, in 2007 sentenced to 12 years in prison

It is necessary to demand the release of all 10 people, not just one Saida Dadashbeyli


15.3. with regard to checks and balances: reinforce the application of the principle of the separation of powers, and in particular strengthen parliamentary control over the executive;
15.4. with regard to the judiciary:
15.4.1. pursue the reforms of the judiciary and the prosecution service so as to ensure full independence of the judiciary, especially from the executive, in order to restore public confidence in the justice system;

15.4.2. take the necessary measures to resolve the problems revealed by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights as regards the independence, impartiality and fairness of criminal procedures;
15.4.3. refrain from using unjustified application of criminal law to limit freedom of expression;
15.4.4. ensure that pre-trial detention is only imposed as a measure of last resort and in line with the Council of Europe standards regarding necessity and proportionality and favour the application of less intrusive measures;
15.4.5. ensure also that no pressure is exerted on lawyers defending NGO representatives, political activists, human rights defenders and journalists;
In 2014 lawyers defending the rights of human rights defenders and journalists Khalid Bagirov and Alayif Hasanov were illegally expelled from the Bar Association. They must be returned to the Bar Association to the end of 2017.
15.4.6. set up a juvenile justice system;
15.5. with regard to media freedom and freedom of expression:
15.5.1. create conditions enabling journalists to carry out their work freely and ensure that no pressure is exerted on them;
15.5.2. ensure a genuinely independent and impartial review by the judiciary of cases involving journalists, fight against repression of independent journalists and ensure that there is no more prosecution of independent journalists and bloggers on allegedly trumped-up charges;
15.5.3. continue to step up efforts towards the decriminalisation of defamation in co-operation with the Venice Commission, and in the meanwhile remove high criminal sanctions, such as custodial sentences for defamation, from the Criminal Code;
15.6. with regard to freedom of association and political freedom:
15.6.1. further amend the legal framework on the functioning and financing of civil society organisations in order to bring it into full compliance with Council of Europe standards;
15.6.2. ensure that no pressure and repression is exerted against civil society organisations and their members and create an environment conducive for NGOs to operate;
15.6.3. change the domestic legislation and practice on public assemblies to comply with the requirements of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and investigate the excessive use of force by the police against peaceful protesters;

15.7. with regard to conditions of detention and allegations of torture and ill-treatment by law-enforcement agents:
15.7.1. guarantee the publication of all the unpublished CPT reports, and implement the recommendations contained in those reports;

15.7.2. ensure effective investigation into all reported cases of alleged violations with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice and take steps to establish an independent, transparent and effective complaints system for allegations of ill-treatment by enforcement officials.

Paragraphs 15.6.1 to 15.7.2 are of the nature of general recommendations. The authorities of Azerbaijan will simply ignore them.
June 23, 2015 PACE adopted Resolution 2062 (2015) on Azerbaijan, asked for the release of political prisoners, the authorities ignored this resolution.
It is necessary to write specifically, concrete :
- demand to release all 145 political prisoners until December 2017,
- Investigate the torture and murder of 7 people in April-May 2017.
- bring to responsibility the employees of law enforcement bodies, guilty in torture and murder.
If not, at the January session of the PACE will be discuss sanctions against Azerbaijan, depriving the right to vote of deputies from Azerbaijan.

B. Explanatory memorandum by Mr Stefan Schennach and Mr Cezar Florin Preda, co-rapporteurs

1. Introduction

1. On 23 June 2015, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2062 (2015) on the functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan in which it condemned what it called “the crackdown on human rights in Azerbaijan” and called for an end to the “systemic repression” of human rights defenders, the media and those critical of the government, including politically motivated prosecutions. The Assembly called on the authorities to release all political prisoners, including those who have co-operated with the Parliamentary Assembly. The Assembly made a series of recommendations to the authorities of Azerbaijan as part of its ongoing monitoring of the country - including steps to reinforce democratic “checks and balances” in the system, ensure a fairer electoral framework, and further boost judicial independence.

2.
On 9 December 2015, Mr Stefan Schennach was appointed rapporteur to replace Mr Tadeusz Iwiński and on 19 April 2016 Mr Cezar Florin Preda was appointed in replacement of Mr Agustín Conde. We have carried out a number of fact-finding visits since then: in April 2016 (Mr Schennach alone), June 2016, January 2017 and June 2017. The purpose of these visits was to assess the implementation of the recommendations made by the Assembly in June 2015.

3. Since Resolution 2062 (2015) on the functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan, the Assembly has adopted Resolution 2085 (2016) on “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water”. In addition, Mr Alain Destexhe has been tasked by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights with the preparation of a report on “Azerbaijan’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe: What follow-up on respect for human rights?”.

4. In the light of our discussions with multiple interlocutors during our successive visits to Azerbaijan since last year, we decided to issue a report on the functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan in order to take stock of developments since the Assembly’s last resolution of 2015. We are aware that it is impossible in such a short timespan to cover in detail all the developments currently taking place in Azerbaijan. We will therefore limit ourselves to some of the main issues and related reforms we discussed. Thus, we will look into the actual application of the principle of separation of powers, in order to understand the checks and balances in the country. The question of the independence of the judiciary is fundamental, as well as the related functioning of the criminal justice system. We will focus on the human rights situation in the country including the functioning of civil society and respect for political freedoms, the issue of the so-called “political prisoners”/”prisoners of conscience” but also prison conditions and allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials. The developments regarding media freedom and freedom of expression will also be covered. We will not deal with the electoral processes since the last report, as they were extensively discussed in the framework of the PACE observer visits and covered by the reports issued by them. We intend to provide a detailed and in-depth analysis of the situation with regard to all the commitments and obligations in the next report on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Azerbaijan.

5. During all our visits we met high officials including the President of the Republic, the Head of the Presidential Administration, the Minister of Justice, the Prosecutor General, the leadership and PACE delegation of the Milli Mejlis (parliament), the Minister of the Interior, the State Security Service, the chairmen and judges of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, representatives of the Ombudsperson’s Office, representatives of religious institutions and of the Bar Association. We also held meetings with extra-parliamentary opposition parties, civil society representatives, journalists, lawyers, representatives of the international community, and persons in detention, some of their family members and persons recently released.

2. Background

6. Our discussions focused mainly on systemic issues and ongoing reforms. In addition we discussed possible reforms to prevent some problematic situations from rising again in the future. In this context, we discussed with the authorities the possibility of addressing, in close cooperation with the Council of Europe, a number of priority areas including the independence of the judiciary, the criminal justice system, the NGOs legislation and practice as well as media freedom.

7. We also paid attention to some cases of specific human rights defenders, activists, bloggers, journalists and religious activists currently in det