Azerbaijani lawmakers have decided to take a good hard look at the issue of human rights -- in the United States.
With Baku facing mounting international criticism over its rights record, Azerbaijan's parliament held hearings on January 15 to probe issues including U.S. race relations, anti-Muslim bigotry, and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
“There is a race problem in the U.S.,” Trend News Agency quoted lawmaker Zahid Oruj as saying, adding that the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president "hasn’t eliminated the racial discrimination in the United States."
Another lawmaker, Azay Guliyev, asked why U.S. think tanks are criticizing Azerbaijan given that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is still open, according to press reports. He also raised the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, by a police officer.
The parliamentary hearing appeared to be an exercise in so-called "whataboutism," the Soviet-era rhetorical tactic of responding to criticism about rights abuses by citing real or imagined abuses committed by the West.
Guliyev said the hearing was held because of U.S. criticism leveled at Azerbaijan.
"We decided to hold these hearings and study the situation of human rights in the United States in an effort to find out on what grounds they are making such statements about Azerbaijan," he said.
Azerbaijan has come under international criticism for a wide range of human rights abuses, including the arrest of journalists and activists and the closure of numerous NGOs. The most recent criticism came after the detention and imprisonment of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova on December 5.
On January 13, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California) called on Azerbaijan to release Ismayilova and criticized the December 26 raid and closure of RFE/RL's Baku bureau.
In recent months, Azerbaijani authorities have also closed down a number of NGOs, including the Baku branches of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX).
According to the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), there are 98 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, including 13 journalists and bloggers.
The NHC awarded its 2014 Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award to Azerbaijan's political prisoners.
-- Luke Johnson