No visa for Christoph Strässer’s official trip to AzerbaijanIn December 2011, Christoph Strässer, rapporteur on “Revisiting the issue of political prisoners” for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, gave the Azerbaijani delegation to the Council of Europe a list of alleged political prisoners in Azerbaijan. To date, the Azerbaijani authorities have not commented on these cases. A trip to Azerbaijan was planned for early May. The invitation from the Azerbaijani delegation came with unacceptable conditions attached and was to be limited to the question of how the term “political prisoner” should be defined. This was an attempt to completely ignore an important element of Mr Strässer’s mandate as rapporteur, namely the situation of imprisoned journalists, opposition politicians and peaceful demonstrators in Azerbaijan, who are in some cases serving long sentences. The authorities ultimately refused to issue an invitation reflecting Mr Strässer’s mandate.
At a meeting of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr Strässer stated that he would now submit a report without visiting Azerbaijan beforehand. It will be based on reports from and longstanding contacts with local and international human rights organisations, lawyers, family members and other sources.
Christoph Strässer regrets that the Azerbaijani authorities are in this way refusing to cooperate with an elected rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly – an unprecedented course of action. The decision on what consequences this should have is, however, a matter for the bodies of the Council of Europe, not the rapporteur.