Azerbaijan’s Government Attacks European Principles of Parliamentarism

Illustrated with a charismatic picture of an Azerbaijani civil servant, the Azerbaijan press agency APA reported on 22.2.2017 on a new case for them. Plese see the original text of this press agency release here:

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Prosecutor General’s Office: „A criminal case was launched against members of the European Parliament“

Azerbaijan has announced an international arrest warrant for European Parliament members (EP) Frank Engel (Luxembourg), Eleni Teoharus (Cyprus) and Jaromir Stetin (Czech Republic) for the monitoring of the „referendum“ in Nagorno Karabakh, spokesperson of the Prosecutor General’s Office Eldar Sultanov told APA.

Azerbaijani General Prosecutor’s Office instituted criminal proceedings against the foreigners who have committed an illegal visit the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, also sent a corresponding request to Interpol for their announcement on the international wanted list, said on Wednesday the press service of the Prosecutor General.

“A criminal case has been launched against the members of the European Parliament under the relevant articles of the Criminal Code for repeated illegal visit to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, in particular, on suspicion of illegal visit to Nagorno Karabakh to participate in the so-called “referendum” as the “observers” on February 20,” Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.

In addition, the accused European parliamentarians charged for conducting propaganda of seperatist entity called „Nagorno Karabakh Republic“, illegal participation in the activities organized in those territories, and presenting illegal entity in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan as an independent republic.

“The court decided to arrest F.Engel, E.Teoharus and J. Stetin and they have been declared internationally wanted through Interpol,” the report says.


This constitutes an incredible attack on European parliamentarism. Three Members of European Parliament went as observers to a referendum. There were around 100 international observers at the constitutional referendum in Nagtrono-Karabakh from 20.2.2017, according to the result of the referendum now called Artsakh, which should regulate the circumstances how the people there live in the future. Artsakh is not recognised by any other country, but it works together with institutions all over the world (like e.g. Kosovo  in a phase of its history) and, in a strong contrast to Azerbaijan itself, it can be considered to be, in grosso modo, a democratic community, which in the region maight be topped only by Georgia. This is a positive sign, but for the Azerbaijan government it seems to be a bad sign: They do not let their people live in a freedom like it is the case in the disputed territory of Artsakh. There no state harrassment is known to bloggers, critical journalists, opposition members etc., as it is the case in Azerbaijan, who even has managed institutions in the EU to have compiled a list of their political prisoners. Azerbaijan, after all, is not only the most corrupt regime among the Council of Europe Member States, but it is also the most repressive, where it seems to have doubled now Belarus. Only their brother state Turkey has has imprsoned more journalists at present, but it has also more than 10 x the population.

What can the EU do?

The three arrtest warrants are, of course, ridiculous. They also include that the accused European parliamentarians [are] charged for conducting propaganda of seperatist entity called „Nagorno Karabakh Republic“. This is a propaganda notion like e.g. in Turkey  „terrorism“ is used for opposition members, or as it was used in Soviet times, but definitely not in an open society. And it should be reminded that OSCE was compelled to cancel their own observer mission for the Azeri parliamentary elections in autumn 2015 (see also  http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/azerbaijan/181611).

The warrants might be enforced by states who „just want to do a favour“ towards Azerbaijan. Belarus did so some weeks ago in the case of the Russian-Israeli blogger Lapchin who was extradited to Azerbaijan (…just to have some conversations with the police…“). This would be an incredible violation of free parliamentarism. Any European parliamentarian, and not only in the EU parliament, has the right to observe whatever  election or vote may be held anywhere in the world, if he was invited (which was the case). I have to add, also if not. To observe an election or a general vote like a referendum is a good tradition among democracies or not-so-advanced democracies, anyway it is a good sign for popular vote and people’s power. That this is attacked under the pretexts used by the Azeri government is an incredible attack on free parliamentarism. This should be solved under political auspices only, by discussions, debates, parliamentary actions. The fact that Azerbaijan reduced their actions to criminal procedures shows only the nervousness of a regime who cold not do anything – due to their commitment to gas and oil extracrtion only and a lack of economic diversification – against an economic and monetary downturn, and who did not really manage to overcome the disparities between the capital and rural  areas. Instead of this, it buys arms by the billions (euros) from Russia and exercises regularly a belligerous language aganist their neighbour. It is the European country with the worst state branding policy, with a too transparant „caviar diplomacy“ and corruption towards third countries as well – see the present investigation in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly member Volonté who is under suspicion to have got 2,4 mill. euro from Azerbaijan sources.

The EU could – and should – after all, besides a clear resolution by the European Parliament, first suspend all talks with the Azeri government until the arrest warrants would be withdrawn formally.

If necessary, it can approach all third country governments and ask them whether they will follow to implement this international arrest warrant by Azerbaijan. This should be confirmed by any other government, as it is not clear if legal procedures will be correct in some of these states – see the extradition of Lapchin from Belarus. This should be launched in an official diplomatic note. It is a chance to enhance EU common foreign policy – and also European parliamentarism, which cannot be forced to meet the level of what is consicdered as parliamentarism by Azerbaijan.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka

Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal

 

 

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