Human rights activists protest during President Aliyev’s visit to Berlin
On January 21, representatives of the Berlin-based European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE) and local activists of Reporters without Borders held a protest outside the office of the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, who met with the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
The picketers demanded the release of Anar Mammadli, chairman of EMDS (Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center), famous journalist Khadija Ismayilova and other political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
The picket was attended by Ales Bialiatski, leader of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Liliya Shibanova, head of the Russian Association GOLOS, Stefanie Schiffer of the German organization European Exchange. These organizations are among the founders of the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE), and Anar Mammadli is an EPDE board member.
The human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists were holding posters and photographs of political prisoners, chanting “Stop Dictator Aliyev!”, “For Azerbaijan Without Political Prisoners!”, “For Democratic Azerbaijan Without Aliyev”, “Stop Supporting Dictatorial Regimes!”.
According to Deutsche Welle, during a meeting of the German Chancellor and the Azerbaijani President, Ms. Merkel said that the human rights situation in Azerbaijan was among the “relevant” issues of bilateral relations. Ilham Aliyev, apparently, does not consider the issue important. At least in his response to the Chancellor he did not touch upon the subject. Meanwhile, German journalists reminded about the issue. One of the reporters asked the President if he was not bothered by the fact that in the ranking of press freedom Azerbaijan occupied the shameful 160th place out of all the countries in the world. “In Azerbaijan there is no problem with a rating of freedom of the press, and I have no problems with my personal rating,” said Aliyev, citing the results of a public opinion poll, according to which he is supposedly supported by more than 90 percent of the country’s population. Then the President spoke about the economic success of the country, about a tripling of GDP, a reduction to 5 percent of unemployment rate and the proportion of the poor. As for the rights and freedoms, Aliyev said they were observed.
Angela Merkel did not object to her guest, but noted in this regard that Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe, which suggests the country’s obligation to protect human rights, adhere to the norms of democracy and the rule of law. “We think that there are cases of human rights and we talked about them, they cause our criticism,” said she. Ms. Merkel also recalled that Germany was interested in the ability of German foundations and organizations to work in Azerbaijan on a sound legal basis. “Here we still have differences of opinion,” she said.
But finally the President’s mood was spoiled by one of the journalists, and possibly a human rights activist, who said he was a journalist to get into the Federal Chancellery. When the press conference was over and the high-ranking officials came out for a photo session, he jumped up from his seat and became shouting, calling the President of Azerbaijan to release political prisoners. Security officers gave him a chance to speak, and when everyone started leaving the room, politely asked to show his ID and were apparently pleased with what they saw.