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Azerbaijan Still Refuses Visa To Council Of Europe Official

Council of Europe parliament deputy Christoph Straesser
Council of Europe parliament deputy Christoph Straesser
BAKU -- The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan says he still has not received an official invitation or visa to visit that country, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Council of Europe parliament deputy Christoph Straesser, who is from Germany, told RFE/RL that he has still not received the necessary documents from Azerbaijani officials despite making numerous requests in the past year.

"I have always made it very clear that I intend to fulfill my mandate [as special rapporteur] and finally visit Azerbaijan so there will be a report, based on an assessment of all the facts," Straesser said. "That will take place with a visit to Azerbaijan, if the Azerbaijani delegation cooperates, or without a visit, which in my view would be regrettable. Either way, the mandate must be fulfilled."

Straesser said the next step will be a hearing at a meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee during an upcoming PACE session in Strasbourg.

"It will involve civil society representatives from Azerbaijan and will also incorporate the perspective of Azerbaijan's state authorities," he told RFE/RL.

Straesser noted that he has applied for a visa several times.

"Despite repeated requests, I have yet to receive an invitation," he said. "I cannot predict whether and when an invitation will be forthcoming. That being the case, our next step is to hold a hearing in Strasbourg. I have presented the Azerbaijani delegation to the Council of Europe with a list of names of about 70 alleged political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani authorities now have the opportunity to comment on these cases."

Straesser rejected criticism that his mission as rapporteur has failed.

"This kind of criticism does not make fulfilling the mandate any easier," he said. "The various stakeholders should focus instead on finding ways to support the mandate. The purpose of the mandate is to produce a report on the issue of political prisoners. A visit to Azerbaijan would be useful, but it is not the only factor determining the mandate's success or failure. A mandate fails if the final report is rejected."

At the same time, Straesser said he can "understand the mood of impatience within Azerbaijan's active civil society."

Azerbaijani officials have said their refusal to issue a visa to Straesser is the result of the "discriminatory" definition of political prisoners in his mandate.

Read more in Azeri here

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