Why the pardon?


Mixed reaction to Azeri leader’s pardon decree
BBC Monitoring International Reports – Friday, December 28, 2012
Azerbaijani human rights activists have displayed a mixed reaction to the 26 December pardoning decree of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

The president pardoned 87 people, including two prisoners of conscience and 11 political prisoners according to the lists of local human rights activists and the report of Christoph Strasser, rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Turan reported on 26 December.

Leyla Yunus, director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, told Turan on 27 December that this happened in the lead to discussions during the PACE winter session of Strasser’s report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

“Now the authorities can say that steps have been taken to resolve the problem, although they deny the very existence of the problem of political prisoners,” Leyla Yunus said.

The human rights activist said that the problem remains unresolved and 54 political prisoners remain in jail. She pointed out that most of the pardoned political prisoners already did the vast majority of their sentences.

This is the first such decree that released as many as 14 political prisoners, Leyla Yunus added. “Nevertheless, it is a positive event that the Azerbaijani authorities released 14 political prisoners at once. This is without a precedent in Azerbaijan, because earlier not more than five or seven political prisoners were released,” the rights activist said.

Leyla Yunus added that there are also new alarming tendencies with unjustified delays in trials. The trial of human rights activist Baxtiyar Mammadov, who protected the rights of the residents whose houses were demolished near the State Flag Square, began in April, and the trial of the editor-in-chief of the Xural newspaper, Avaz Zeynalli, began in May.

Meanwhile, the monitoring group of the Azerbaijani human rights organizations said that the presidential decree is an important step towards resolving the issue of political prisoners, Turan reported in another report on 27 December.

“We believe that this will be duly assessed during the PACE January session, where two reports on Azerbaijan will be on the agenda,” Saida Qocamanli, head of the Bureau for Human Rights and Legal Compliance, told Turan. She pointed out that among those pardoned are 14 people named in Strasser’s report. Qocamanli also said that 18 political activists and journalists from Strasser’s report were released ahead of time earlier.

The list includes 85 people, but only 48 of them remain in jail. For some of them the trial has not been completed or they have yet to be tried, Turan reported.

“We very much hope that before Azerbaijan presides over the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2014 the problem of political prisoners will be closed,” Qocamanli said.