Elections in Azerbaijan: Avoid the “Double Standard”

We are honored to have Mr. Volontè‘s commentary as we welcome his guest contribution today.

The next elections in Azerbaijan, set for November of this year, represent a great opportunity for Europe and international bodies: to prove that there are no double standards within the Election Observation Mission’s evaluations of and final reports on those elections. Unfortunately, recent events and controversies triggered by western mass media seem to prove that a double standard and partisan evaluations could be employed in the case of the Azeri elections.

We certainly hope that, because of the reputations of the respective international bodies and the observers, this concern will not become reality. However, the heavily partisan interpretation given by numerous western mass media of the arrest of the journalist Khadija Ismayilova justifies doubts regarding their real will to be sincerely objective.

Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter of Azadlig radio, was convicted of concrete criminal acts that have nothing to do with journalistic activity. The court determined that the prosecution had fully proven her guilt and made an appropriate decision.

Attempts by some international organizations and officials of various states, as well as human rights organizations, to politicize the court decision on Khadija Ismayilova’s case are unacceptable, said Ali Hasanov, the Azerbaijani president’s aide for public and political affairs.

The government of Azerbaijan is carrying out ongoing programs toward the further development of freedom of speech and information, and the independence of media outlets.  “Today, hundreds of mass media outlets operate in complete independence and full security, and the journalists do their job with no obstacle before them. Just as in developed western countries, journalists in Azerbaijan are not prosecuted for their professional activities. Therefore, we deem attempts unacceptable of some foreign circles to damage Azerbaijan’s democratic image by distorting the reality in the country and generalizing different cases in an unfounded manner. We urge them to avoid such an approach,” Hasanov said.

In fact, recently, Azerbaijan’s Central Election Commission chairman said that the media shouldn’t carry active campaigning in connection with the election before the date indicated in the Calendar Plan, as it is considered a violation of the law. In this regard, Panahov urged political parties to be more cautious in this matter and not to allow violations.

There are reasonable doubts and facts proving that some international spheres are trying to discredit the next free and democratic elections in Azerbaijan, even before they take place. The prominence of the Ismayilova case in the international sphere, given Azerbaijan’s domestic reforms, not only confirms these doubts, but also proves how Europe and international bodies are losing a great opportunity to “positively contribute” to the elections process and the reforms in Azerbaijan.

Those international bodies should be rather worried about Armenian authorities’ refusal to accept the investigations conducted by the Official Representative of the Council of Europe, deputy Bob Walter, who has been investigating for over 8 months the problematic occupation of the territories in Nagorno Karabakh; and yet he cannot visit the area controlled by Armenian military forces. The goal of this prohibition is to avoid any possible and reasonable investigation of the current conditions of the population living in the occupied territories, which probably will not be visited by the international observers during next elections in Azerbaijan.

Yet not a word about this in Europe. This fact proves that Western mass media are sort of “short-sighted”. They demand freedom of opinion and the press, but at the same time are the first ones to demonstrate their lack of freedom. In the end, the prejudice of western countries towards Azeri institutions will have only one victim: the credibility of Europe.

Mr. Volontè is a prominent Italian politician, a former member of the Italian Parliament, and former President of the European People’s Party in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

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