Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (26 August) on the sentencing of six demonstrators in Azerbaijan – some of them to years-long prison terms:
“Six young people in Azerbaijan have been sentenced to lengthy terms in prison because they demonstrated for freedom, human rights and the rule of law. These sentences illustrate how bad the human rights situation in Azerbaijan is. The political imprisonment of dozens of people, restrictions on freedom of opinion and assembly, intimidation of journalists and random demolitions of the homes of political activists all offer further unhappy examples of this situation. All of these things need to stop.
I call on Azerbaijan to overturn the convictions and release the detainees immediately. Nobody should be prosecuted for peacefully exercising their right to demonstrate. Furthermore, I expect Azerbaijan to release all political prisoners. The time has come for full freedom of opinion and the press to be ensured. These are responsibilities to which Azerbaijan has committed itself by acceding to the Council of Europe; it needs to uphold these commitments now.
The Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Azerbaijan next year. Azerbaijan needs to understand that Europe cannot gather joyfully in a place where the level of respect for human rights continues to be so low.”
Dozens of activists were arrested in Baku on 2 April 2011 in connection with a call for demonstrations and with the demonstrations themselves. Some of these people had already been sentenced before the issuing of the most recent verdicts against six more people. Other criminal proceedings are still underway.