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Azerbaijan should ease restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

Strasbourg. "Harassment of journalists and others expressing critical views in Azerbaijan is a source of serious human rights

concern. The authorities should release all persons who are in detention because of their opinions and improve legislation and practice on

freedom of expression and assembly," Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said in regard to a report

released today on his visit to Azerbaijan carried out from 22 to 24 May 2013.

Recommending the full decriminalisation of defamation, the Commissioner regrets that the President of Azerbaijan signed

amendments in June aimed at facilitating the application of defamation provisions to online expression. Another concern relates to the

excessive damages which are sometimes awarded in civil defamation cases. "The authorities should finalise the reform of the defamation

legislation in order to repeal imprisonment and allow only proportionate fines."

The Commissioner further underscores the need to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the courts, which appear to

be particularly severe in judging journalists and other media professionals.

The Commissioner is also concerned by recent restrictions to the exercise of fundamental freedoms online. "A wave of arrests

and prosecutions, as well as widespread surveillance, has targeted social media users. These practices must cease immediately and the

Internet must remain a free arena for public expression."

Concerns remain about the limitations imposed on freedom of assembly, notably the excessive use of force by law enforcement

officials to disperse demonstrations and the requirement of authorisation to hold public gatherings. "The authorities should refrain from

using the force against peaceful demonstrators and should seek to facilitate and protect public assemblies at the organisers' preferred

location." The Commissioner is also worried about the recent harshening of the fines and the use of administrative detention against

those who organise or participate in "unauthorised" public gatherings and urges the authorities to ensure that no disproportionate

sanction, which would undermine the fundamental right to peaceful assembly, is imposed.

A further reason of deep concern are the additional restrictions imposed on NGOs by recent amendments, as well as the tone of

the political discourse which often stigmatises NGOs, in particular those receiving funds from abroad. "The authorities must fully respect

the right to freedom of association, which is crucial for a healthy democracy. Alleviating the registration requirements and making the

whole process, as well as the functioning of NGOs, less bureaucratic is a first necessary step."

Lastly, the Commissioner expresses concerns about the effective enjoyment of the right to property in Azerbaijan.

"Expropriations and demolitions should be carried out in a lawful and transparent manner. The authorities should provide fair market

value compensations and allow access to an effective national remedy for those who would like to impugn the decisions against their

properties."

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Publication:ArmInfo - Business Bulletin
Geographic Code:9AZER
Date:Aug 6, 2013
Words:468
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