Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged a European Union official visiting Azerbaijan to press President Ilham Aliyev to free unjustly imprisoned political activists, journalists, and government critics.
Aliyev and Johannes Hahn, the commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement, held talks in Baku on June 16. They discussed issues including Baku-Brussels cooperation and partnerships in energy and trade, a statement on Aliyev's website said.
In a joint statement on June 15, HRW and the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) said that Hahn should also urge Aliyev to lift restrictions on activists released from prison and reform laws that severely curtail fundamental freedoms.
"Commissioner Hahn should make human rights concerns a priority when he meets with President Aliyev," said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. "He should make it clear to President Aliyev that without an end to the authorities' crackdown on dissent, there cannot be a genuine partnership between his government and the European Union."
The statement from Aliyev's office did not mention whether they discussed human rights at the talks, but Aliyev was cited as saying: "We are ready to make efforts to widen our relations with the EU."
Hahn's visit comes a day after the European Parliament adopted a resolution criticizing Azerbaijani authorities' arrest of journalist Afqan Muxtarli and calling for the release of activists arrested on politically motivated grounds.