Azerbaijan, Baku /corr Trend A.Gasimova /
Trend's exclusive interview with PACE Monitoring Group Co-rapporteur, Tony Lloyd
Question: What is the progress in the development of a report on Azerbaijan, which is to be discussed at the PACE summer session? What major issues will be included in it?
Answer: Our report will be discussed during the Spring part-session of PACE (16-20 April 2007). For the moment, a confidential preliminary draft report, prepared with Mr Andres Herkel, is in the hands of the Azerbaijani parliamentary delegation to PACE. They should submit their comments on it by the end of February. We will then review our report and on 28 March 2007 the Monitoring Committee will adopt and make public our final report, including a draft resolution.
Our report will cover all various obligations and commitments undertaken by Azerbaijan upon its accession, therefore, amongst others, issues related to: the freedom of expression and media pluralism, the revision of the Election Code and of the law on freedom of assembly; the reform of the judicial system and of the Bar Association, prison conditions and allegations of ill-treatment, the fight against corruption and organised crime, as well as the follow-up to the issue of alleged political prisoners and in particular the progress made in the work of the Task Force comprising representatives of the authorities and of human rights NGOs of Azerbaijan.
Question: Do you plan to visit Azerbaijan before the discussion of the report at the PACE session?
Answer: I wish we could but we will not have enough time: as soon as we receive the authorities' comments we will have to finalise our report and submit it to our colleagues at the latest by 20 March. I hope that I will be able to visit Azerbaijan with Andres Herkel after the PACE discussion of the report in May or June in order to discuss the follow-up to be given to the PACE Resolution.
Question: Many independent experts have recently marked the decrease in the criticism due to the existing situation with Azerbaijan media. How could You estimate the current situation with Azerbaijan media, which may be reflected in Your report?
Answer: There will be a whole chapter in our report on media freedom and the situation of journalists. What I can already tell you now -since I have been personally following this matter for some months - is that I am extremely disappointed that the ANS issue has not yet been definitely resolved. After the company's closure last November, ANS was allowed to start rebroadcasting in December, thanks also to President Aliyev's intervention, and I was among the first ones to welcome this step. However, this was a temporary measure pending the decision on a new tender which was announced for the ANS frequencies by the NTRC. When I learnt that ANS was the only one to apply for this tender I thought we were finally close to a "definitive solution" to the problem.
You can thus understand that I am disappointed to learn that a second tendering round has now been announced (from 20 February to 20 March) on the ground that no bidders other than ANS had taken part in the earlier tender. Does the Television and Radio Broadcasting Law require a minimum number of participants? I understand that this is not the case and such a condition was never made public when the tender was announced. It is not for me to enter into a detailed analysis of the law. I can only reiterate that when Azerbaijan joined our Pan-European Organisation, it committed itself "to exclude the use of administrative means to restrict the freedom of the media." I hope that this uncertainty regarding ANS' fate will soon come to an end ...
Question: The report also includes issues related to judicial reforms. What are your views on the reforms?
Answer: I believe that the exams recently organised for judges, with Council of Europe assistance, have been a success and I hope the new judges will soon start working. I think that a similar model should be followed for exams to qualify as a defence lawyer. It is also important that judicial reform, as always, be now fully implemented in practice.
Question: Does your report specify the improvement of the Laws on Freedom of Assembly and Election Code of Azerbaijan as an obligation?
Answer: The need to improve the Election Code, especially regarding the composition of the electoral commissions at all levels, and the law on freedom of assembly, in co-operation with the CoE's Venice Commission, was one of the main recommendations made by the PACE in its Resolution1505 (2006), adopted last June. I welcome that such co-operation in improving the two laws is on-going and hope that in our final report we will in a position to note improvements.