Leading rights watchdogs are urging the European Union's special representative for human rights to use his visit to Azerbaijan to press for the release of dozens of activists and journalists jailed on what they say are politically motivated charges.
Stavros Lambrinidis is to visit Baku on February 23 at the invitation of the Azerbaijan government.
Human Rights Watch, the International Partnership for Human Rights, and Front Line Defenders said in a statement that Lambrinidis has a unique opportunity to "insist that the government end its campaign to silence critics and release the dozens of activists and journalists behind bars on bogus charges."
The rights watchdogs said Baku has for years curtailed criticism of the government and public debate.
More than 30 activists, lawyers, journalists, and bloggers were convicted or detained last year on charges including treason and tax evasion in cases rights groups say were politically motivated.
Those behind bars include rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus, youth activist Rasul Jafarov, and Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL.