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Rights Groups Urge Greater Pressure On Azerbaijani Government

International and Azerbaijani human rights groups have issued a joint appeal to the Council of Europe to take decisive measures to improve the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The appeal calls on the council to push the Azerbaijani leadership to conduct crucial judicial reforms in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary and to remind the Azerbaijani government about its international obligations in the sphere of human rights.

The appeal was signed by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Article 19, the Rafto Foundation, and a number of other regional watchdogs.

Berit Lindeman, a woman, adviser and information head at the Norwegian Helsinki Commission, told RFE/RL that "we have to remember that the Azerbaijani government has signed on to a number of commitments to undertake dutiful reform to implement freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, democratic elections.

And they haven't done it, so we need to use institutions to continue pressuring Azerbaijan."

She added that "from an Azerbaijani perspective, I understand perfectly that it might seem a total waste [of time] to have another statement on the situation
in Azerbaijan." But she said "it is important to keep Azerbaijan high on the agenda because it is very easily forgotten."

The rights groups also urge the Council of Europe to encourage the Azerbaijani government to drop all charges against activists and journalists jailed for political reasons, including bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli. The two young men were sentenced in November to 2 and 2 and 1/2 years in prison, respectively, for hooliganism and inflicting minor bodily harm after being arrested in a scuffle at a restaurant in July 2009.

Lenur Kerimov, a representative of the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said the efforts are worthwhile, as raising awareness often translates
into increased pressure against the regime, which he said may eventually bring results.

"We realize perfectly that one appeal will not solve the problems in Azerbaijan and won't stop the violation of human rights [there]," he said. "But it is our
role to constantly monitor the situation, and the appeal serves to alert international public opinion that human rights are constantly under threat in Azerbaijan."

He added: "We won't achieve human rights without a struggle -- and that [requires] very long and arduous work."