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Council of Europe: Azerbaijan needs more freedom of speech, more lawyers

“Freedom of expression in Azerbaijan continues to be under threat,” said Dunja Mijatović (pictured above), the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, at the end of a four-day visit to the Caucasus country. Recalling the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments stressing a troubling pattern of arbitrary arrest and detention of government critics, civil society activists and human rights defenders through retaliatory prosecutions and misuse of criminal law in defiance of the rule of law, the commissioner highlighted that “releasing all persons who are in detention because of the views they expressed should remain a priority.” She also reiterated her call to decriminalise defamation.

In addition, the commissioner raised with the authorities the issue of travel bans imposed on journalists, lawyers, political activists and human rights defenders, some of which have been found in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “The authorities should refrain from resorting to the disproportionate practice of imposing travel bans arbitrarily and lift immediately those which are in contradiction with the right to leave the country,” she said.

Another focus of the commissioner’s visit was the situation of lawyers in Azerbaijan. The commissioner noted that Azerbaijan has the lowest number of lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants in the Council of Europe area. She said that this undermines access to justice, especially in rural areas where the number of lawyers is very low.

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