Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Rep. Chris Smith
Co-Chairman - U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe


This is a very timely hearing as the Commission prepares to visit Baku for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s annual session. As we prepare to visit Baku, I believe it’s imperative for this Commission to discuss the grave deterioration of human rights in Azerbaijan over the past few years. 

I have in front of me here a timeline prepared by Commission staff of all of the politically-motivated harassment of journalists, prosecution of the opposition, and jailing of activists. It’s amazing how in just the last two years the government of Azerbaijan has changed for the worse. 

In March 2012 a reporter for RFE/RL, Ms. Khadija Ismail, was humiliated and blackmailed when an intimate video of her filmed covertly in her apartment was released to the public. She has continued to be harassed and called in for questioning and I have no doubt that this harassment is due to her tenacity in researching and reporting corruption at the highest levels of government. 

In February 2013 Azerbaijan changed its law on non-governmental organizations to follow the harsh model set by Russia. 

In February 2013 – two opposition politicians, Mr. Tofig Yagublu of the opposition Musavat Party and Mr. Ilgar Mammadov, chairperson of the opposition group REAL, are arrested on charges of orchestrating anti-government protests. They have now been sentenced to lengthy jail terms. 

In July 2013, despite pledges to do otherwise, Azerbaijan enacted its law on criminalization of online defamation. Azerbaijanis face jail time of up to three years for content they post online. 

In December 2013, Mr. Anar Mammadli, head of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS) in Azerbaijan, is placed in pre-trial confinement pending his trial on charges of illegal enterprise, tax evasion and abuse of authority. Mammadli was previously questioned on numerous occasions after EMDS issued a report documenting widespread electoral violations during the October 2013 election. He has now been sentenced to a lengthy jail term. 

Unfortunately, these are only a few of the many cases over the past two years. While we all recognize the important role Azerbaijan plays in the energy sector, and we also recognize that Azerbaijan has carved out for itself a forward-leaning international relations policy that seeks to balance the pressures from Russian and Iran with friendly relations with the U.S. and Israel, the special role of this commission is to urge and insist that OSCE governments meet their human rights commitments. As a participating State in the OSCE and as the chair of the council of ministers of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has indicated that it wants to be a part of the world community. It wants to be seen as a leader. If that is the case, then we need to see more leadership, and less authoritarianism. 

I look forward to hearing the testimony today. Thank you.