(Washington, D.C.--December 1, 2006) While Azerbaijan has the potential to become a stable, democratic country, various problems persist that hinder this development, according to two Azeri experts. Jamil Hasanli, a member of the Milli Mejlis (parliament) of Azerbaijan and Murad Sadaddinov, Chairman of the Azerbaijan Foundation of Democracy Development and Human Rights Protection told an RFE/RL audience that since the 1990s, Azerbaijan has laid the foundation for democratic development, but issues involving freedom of expression, media freedom and the continuing prosecution of political prisoners have delayed the country's progress.
While lauding the strong protections of civil liberties and human rights contained in the Azerbaijani constitution, Hasanli said several of these constitutional guarantees are not being implemented in real life. Hasanli noted the damage inflicted on Azerbaijan's reputation by ongoing crackdowns on independent media, including the closure last week of ANS television and radio and the eviction of the newspaper "Azadliq", Turan news agency and other outlets from their offices in central Baku. Describing the rise and fall of ANS as a reflection of the "history of Azerbaijan's independence," Hasanli said the independent broadcaster provided Azeris with "necessary, impartial, fair and accurate" information and helped inform Azeris about the situation in "Azerbaijan's occupied territories". Hasanli charged that ANS had done nothing to provide the Azeri government a reason to shut the station down and that, by forcibly closing the station, government officials showed that they "misunderstand freedom of speech."
Sadaddinov said the liberation of all political prisoners is one of the most important issues that Azerbaijan must resolve. When Azerbaijan was accepted into the Council of Europe in 2001, Azerbaijan made a commitment to free all political prisoners and yet, Sadaddinov said, "problems still exist." Sadaddinov believes that western governments must emphasize the political prisoner issue in their negotiations and dialogues with Azerbaijan and that the Council of Europe must show a greater sense of urgency on the question. Sadaddinov added that increasingly powerful and authoritarian neighbors, such as Russia, also exert a negative influence on Azerbaijan's democratic development and, as a result, foreign governments such as the U.S. need to support Azerbaijan's development as a Western democracy.
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