Azeri parliamentary cooperation chair: MEPs should check facts before they vote

Javanshir Feyziyev [Website of Javanshir Feyziyev]

Some events in Azerbaijan are treated in the EU with prejudice and intentional bias, and some MEPs have a clear agenda to make obstacles to the rapprochement of EU-Azerbaijan relations, Javanshir Feyziyev told EURACTIV in a written interview.

Javanshir Feyziyev is the co-chair of the EU-Azerbaijan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee (PCC). A linguist by training, he worked in the private sector before being elected a member of parliament in 2010, and re-elected in 2015.

What is your reaction to the EP resolution on “Azerbaijan, notably the case of Mehman Huseynov” adopted on Thursday (17 January), which is quite critical of the handling of his case by your country’s authorities? What is your authorities’ version of the reasons for his imprisonment? Is it possible in your country to criticise a leader, like the president or the vice president?

At first sight, the adopted Resolution of EP is a reaction to negative information, spread on a social network. But we would expect MEPs to gather comprehensive information about the incident from verifiable sources. In some cases, initial information from social networks can be false, like in this case. Some MEP – initiators of debates sounded like they have tried to contact their colleagues in Azerbaijan, but their counterparts in Azerbaijan are not aware of such an initiative. There is only an exception that I have received a call from my co-chair, MEP Sajjad Karim, who expressed his concerns and we shared our knowledge about the Mehman Huseynov case. [Sajjad Karim abstained during the vote.]

All restrictions on the press in Azerbaijan were removed in 1996 by a special decree about freedom of speech and expression. Since then, it has never been a problem to criticize any person, including the government, the president or the vice-president. Right now, you can find plenty of critical comments in Azerbaijani press about all political leaders and governmental officials. The freedom of speech and expression, political pluralism, freedom of assembly are guaranteed by the law. There are about 400 printed press and more than 20 independent İnformation Agencies, 11 nationwide TVs, 4 satellite TVs, 13 regional and 26 IP TVs in the country. 80 % of the population are internet users; more than 3 million people out of 10 million are regular users of social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so on. We have a modern IT infrastructure with more than 40 providers of Internet services. In these circumstances, you cannot talk about any restrictions on freedom of speech.

In particular, the resolution speaks of “ongoing repression against civil society in Azerbaijan and the alleged use of fabricated charges to silence criticism against the government”. What does it mean for the image of your country? Or are you going to say that the assessment is unfair?

Of course, the initiative of urgent debates and the adoption of such a negative resolution is damaging the image of the country.  I am afraid the real aim of the attack is not to defend civil society rights but to damage the image of the country as much as possible. There is a firm belief that the initiators of the debates have had exactly this on their agenda. I believe some of our colleagues in EP really want to contribute to justice, but some of them might have a different agenda. Some speakers in debates are well-known in Azerbaijan for their never-ending, well-coordinated propaganda against my country.

The resolution mentions by name political prisoners, including journalists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists, namely Afgan Mukhtarli, Ilkin Rustamzadeh, Rashad Ramazanov, Seymur Hazi, Giyas lbrahimov, Bayram Mammadov, Araz Guliyev, Tofig Hasanli, Ilgiz Qahramanov, Afgan Sadygov and others, and calls for their unconditional release. Will this happen? If not, don’t you think the consequences will be very negative?

The list of names, known as those of political prisoners, includes also persons convicted for recruitment of fighters in Syria and Iraq. So, it is very far from being an objective list. As I said before, there is no problem to criticise, yet defamation is a different thing and is punishable by law anywhere in any democracy. When a journalist is illegally spreading personal details of somebody or intervenes into somebody’s personal life, which is protected by the law, he is becoming guilty and must be convicted. Or when a journalist is using his professional status to blackmail others or extort bribes to stop blackmailing, he is convicted. Registration of a press entity in Azerbaijan is very simple: all you need to do is to send an online statement to the ministry of justice. Some people are misusing these opportunities to try and secure themselves with the immunity of journalist or NGO to commit illegal acts.  If we are talking about the rule of law, any convicted person can be released only through a court decision, which could not and should not be affected by a political resolution.

Do you think the EU, or some of its politicians, have a negative bias against Azerbaijan? What do you think are their motivations?

Some events in Azerbaijan are prejudged within EU, or by some of its politicians with intentional bias. Some MEPs have a clear agenda to make obstacles to the rapprochement of EU-Azerbaijan relations. We know them very well. They are exactly the same individuals who travelled many times to occupied territories of Azerbaijan to support separatists, provided conscious political support to Armenian military in its ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from their native land. These MEPs have participated in “local elections” held in the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”, which have been always evaluated as illegal by the EU and all international organisations. They permanently attack Azerbaijan within the EP and EC to damage its international image. Their driving motives are not always altruistic. There are indications that they are financially backed by criminal Armenian groups located in different European countries, including their country of origin.

What is the Azeri side of the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee planning as a response to the resolution? Will it be about better understanding or clarifying positions, or will it be a confrontation?

We will be engaged even more in clarifying the situation around Mehman Huseynov case and will contribute to bringing clarity to these claims. There is no ground for any confrontation, we want fair cooperation. I can imagine that the initiators of the resolution have counted on exactly the opposite scenario.

Azerbaijan is a country that is open for bilateral, mutually beneficial cooperation with anyone genuinely interested in pursuing such cooperation, first and foremost with the EU. Many reforms have been carried out during the last 10-15 years in administration and legislation of my country, many of them thanks to the expertise of our European partners. Indeed, the know-how was theirs, yet the political will has been ours. That’s why we invite anybody who doubts the progress of democracy and freedom in my country to visit Azerbaijan and witness the reality.

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