Azeri govt protests EU over critical statement

BAKU – The Azerbaijani government has condemned the European Union’s statement citing the alleged "lack of respect of fundamental freedoms" in the country.

Roland Kobia, head of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday and informed about Baku’s "discontent and disappointment" with the statement, the ministry told AssA-Irada.

In the statement, which followed an unauthorized opposition rally in downtown Baku, the EU said it was concerned about the fact that on April 2 "a peaceful demonstration in Baku was systematically dispersed and that a large number of participants were arrested and immediately sentenced to administrative detention without proper legal defense".

The statement, issued at an OSCE Permanent Council meeting, said some journalists were prevented from reporting and filming the demonstration and four journalists were temporarily arrested. In addition, opposition party members had been arrested or confined to house arrest ahead of the demonstration. Some have been charged with criminal offences in relation to the conduct of this peaceful movement, the EU said, calling on the Azerbaijani authorities "to immediately release all individuals concerned." The EU urged Azerbaijan to guarantee the right of journalists to freely exercise their profession and promote the necessary conditions to allow them to do so in safety.

During the rally, organized by the Public Chamber umbrella opposition group, 70 people were detained, according to official sources, while the opposition put the figure at more than 200.

Kobia was told at the Foreign Ministry that the EU’s statement was based on biased and erroneous information, and does not reflect the actual situation. "That statement runs counter to the spirit of EU-Azerbaijan relations and is unacceptable."

The ministry’s officials said that Azerbaijan is implementing its commitments to the international organizations it is party to and continues cooperating with them in this area.