BAKU -- A special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has been denied a visa to visit Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
German parliament deputy Christoph Straesser
sent a message to RFE/RL on August 16 that the visa application he "submitted to the Azerbaijani Embassy as rapporteur for the Council of Europe has been rejected."
Elman Abdullayev, who is the first secretary of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry's Press Service, told RFE/RL on August 17 that Straesser's visa application was rejected because of his mandate.
"Any German citizen can visit Azerbaijan," he said. "But there is no such criterion as a political prisoner [in Azerbaijan]. PACE is trying to apply this definition with regard to Azerbaijan. Straesser's visit was deemed meaningless because of its purpose. We think defining his mandate in those terms is [an attempt to] segregate Azerbaijan."
Straesser's statement says Azerbaijani officials "are still failing to cooperate" in organizing Straesser's visit to Azerbaijan, even though PACE's Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee has "repeatedly confirmed the mandate on the definition of political prisoners and the situation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan."
Azerbaijani authorities deny there are any political prisoners in Azerbaijan. They say the people identified as political prisoners by human rights activists and international watchdogs were sentenced for committing crimes.
Straesser's office said it was the first time he applied for a visa and that he waited for support from Azerbaijan's delegation in the Council of Europe but never received an invitation to visit Azerbaijan. He then applied for a visa at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Germany and it was rejected "a few weeks ago."
Fazil Mustafa, a reserve member of the Azerbaijani PACE delegation, told RFE/RL that no obstacles have been created for visits by European diplomats to Azerbaijan. "If the Azerbaijani side has rejected his application, Straesser himself can actively raise the issue with European organizations. It looks as though Straesser himself does not particularly want to visit this country."
Mustafa said Straesser could obtain an invitation from any NGO and pursue his mandate unofficially once he arrived.
Journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who was recently released from jail and has since established the Social Movement for Human Rights, told Azerbaijani media on August 6 that he will organize a civil society conference on November 4 and invite Straesser to attend.
"If he is not allowed to [come to] the conference, it would be a big international scandal," Fatullayev said.
In January, Straesser told RFE/RL he was unable to obtain
the necessary government invitation to apply for a visa to visit Azerbaijan.
On March 23, he posted a note
on his website saying that sanctions cannot be ruled out if Baku continues to block his fact-finding visit.
Meanwhile, local human rights activists and opposition party leaders have criticized Straesser for his alleged inactivity in Azerbaijan. They say he should make a greater effort to get to Azerbaijan in order to evaluate the situation there.
Read more in Azeri here