The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned Azerbaijani authorities for falling short of its Council of Europe membership commitments, even as it takes a leading role in the organization.
Azerbaijan assumes the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers on May 14.
In a statement issued on May 14, HRW's senior South Caucasus researcher, Giorgi Gogia, called on the Council of Europe to pressure Azerbaijan to release "unjustly imprisoned government critics and undertake far-reaching rights reform."
According to the statement, Azerbaijani authorities in the last two years have brought or threatened unfounded criminal charges against at least 38 political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, most of whom are behind bars.
The statement cites dozens of cases of what it says are crackdowns on dissent in Azerbaijan, calling the charges against government critics politically motivated.