"Democracy Died in Strasbourg" Says MP Suleymanov in Letter to Council of Europe

Oct 12, 2012, 06:53 ET from Azerbaijan Monitor

STRASBOURG, France, October 12, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --

"Democracy died in Strasbourg last week," said Azerbaijani MP Elkhan Suleymanov in his letter to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), expressing his concerns about miscalculations as well as blackmail and threats in the approval of the report by German rapporteur Christopher Straesser on the "Definition of Political Prisoners". The key vote in the plenary session of the Assembly, on the crucial paragraph on how a definition on political prisoners should read, was rejected by the narrowest of margins, an unprecedented 89-89 vote, last week. A majority was needed to update the definition in accordance with the European Convention.

In his letter to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland and PACE members, Suleymanov noted, "given the controversy and division over the adoption of the definition on political prisoners, the result will be remembered as a disgrace from a political, ethical and moral standpoint in the Council of Europe's history."

He reproached the rapporteur as well as leaders of the socialists and liberals for "violating their neutrality obligation" by "conducting anti-Azerbaijan lobbying activities" in order to "silence" democratic debate.

The letter further criticised the leader of the Socialists, Swiss MP Andreas Gross, for "compiling nominative lists" during political group meetings, "inciting the members to vote against the amendments via an indicative vote", and "intimidating them with expulsion".

According to Suleymanov, the German delegation "forced" delegates of some countries that are experiencing economic difficulties to vote in favour of Straesser's report by threatening to withdraw critical financial support. A vote, says Suleymanov, "pressured by political blackmail and even personal threats."  

During the debate in the PACE plenary session last week, many MPs criticised Straesser's criteria on political prisoners, which are based on the "Nergaard Principles", applied during the civil war in Namibia, Southern Africa, over two decades ago. Others warned against bad legal and arbitrary practices, while stressing the risks of classifying persons accused of Islamic extremism or terrorist activities as "political prisoners" as well as prejudging pending cases in the European Court of Human Rights.

Commenting on Straesser's statement during the debate, in which the rapporteur said, "Get me right, if the amendment is adopted, my report against Azerbaijan will not be adopted in January," the letter pointed out that a genuine debate on political criteria applicable to all 47 member states was effectively compromised, as the plenary session turned into "an organized demonstration of biased and hostile positions against Azerbaijan, rather than a planned debate on drafting a legal definition of political prisoners."

Suleymanov added, "It remains a mystery to me why they get so angry at such a small secular country, which only stands for its rights and justice", voicing fears of discrimination and double standards against his predominantly Muslim country, which considers "cooperation with Europe in various fields as its first priority and plays a strategic role on energy security in Europe."

Despite the Assembly Chairman's announcement that he could veto the amendments - a practice interpreted as "politically incorrect" by some MPs - two amendments tabled to the report were adopted by the Legal Affairs Committee, just one hour prior to the plenary debate. The first amendment confirmed the fact that the Assembly hasn't adopted criteria on political prisoners so far and the second amendment replaced the outdated Nergaard criteria by referring to the case-law of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR), being the only authority to assess individual violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, precisely as stipulated in the European Convention for Human Rights.

It is extremely rare that an amendment adopted in the Committee is then rejected by the plenary, which some delegates attributed to the intensive German campaign conducted in the short time between the Committee and plenary meetings. 

SOURCE Azerbaijan Monitor