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Azerbaijani rights activists protest in front of Council of Europe in 2013.

A 10-month investigation by the Council of Europe has alleged that several members of the organization’s parliamentary assembly broke ethics regulations and conducted activity of a "corruptive nature" in connection with Azerbaijan.

The 219-page review released on April 22 claimed that Azerbaijan exerted undue influence in the assembly to minimize criticism of its elections and of alleged rights abuses.

"In their activities concerning Azerbaijan, several members and former members of [the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe] had acted contrary to the PACE ethical standards," the report said.

"The investigation body established that there was a strong suspicion that certain current and former members of PACE had engaged in activity of a corruptive nature," it added.

'Caviar Diplomacy'

Critics have raised questions about PACE's weak response to alleged ballot-box stuffing and human rights violations in oil-rich Azerbaijan.

PACE set up the probe in 2017 to investigate charges that former and current members had voted to soften criticism of Baku's authoritarian government in exchange for gifts of cash, caviar, carpets, and stays in luxury hotels in Baku -- a policy dubbed by critics as "caviar diplomacy."

The investigation was conducted by retired judges from Britain, France, and Sweden.

The judges said there were also substantial grounds to believe that a former Italian member and two former Azerbaijani members engaged in "activities of a corruptive nature."

They said five former members of the assembly breached its code of conduct by carrying out lobbying activities on behalf of Azerbaijan after their term of office expired.

Ten other members breached its code of conduct while serving on committees dealing with Azerbaijan or taking part in missions to monitor the country's elections.

'Torture', 'Inhuman' Treatment'

The Council of Europe, created in 1949, is separate from the European Union and promotes human rights and the rule of law.

The parliamentary assembly (PACE) consists of delegates from national parliaments in its 47 member states.

In October 2017, PACE expressed concerns over Azerbaijan's "unprecedented crackdown on human rights" as well as checks and balances, and the functioning of justice in the country.

PACE cited cases of "torture and inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest, in police custody, and in prisons, and the lack of effective investigations, violations of the right to a fair trial, and violations of the right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly."

The head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, Samad Seyidov, rejected the resolutions and denounced a "campaign of hatred against Azerbaijan" aimed at creating a "cleavage" between Baku and the Council of Europe.

PACE is scheduled to begin its spring session in the French city of Strasbourg on April 23 and is slated to discuss the latest report.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and The Guardian
Viral Video: Iranian Woman Seized For Not Wearing Hijab
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Iran’s President Hassan Rohani has criticized the morality police's use of violence against women failing to observe the compulsory Islamic dress code, state media reported on April 21.

Rohani said some believe that "promoting virtue and preventing vice" -- the morality police's stated mandate -- is done “by going to the street and grabbing people by the collar.”

"Promoting virtue will not work through violence," Rohani said in a speech aired on state TV.

Rohani’s comments come after mobile footage went viral on Iranian social media showing a female member of the morality police beating a woman whose head scarf was not sufficiently covering her hair.

Rohani did not refer directly to the incident.

Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli ordered authorities on April 19 to investigate the incident, which prompted outrage on social media.

On April 21, lawmaker Tayebeh Siavoshi said that the female agent involved has been suspended from her job.

In December 2017, Tehran's police said they will no longer arrest women not observing the Islamic dress code imposed in the country following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

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