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PACE 'Does Not Rule Out Sanctions' Against Azerbaijan

Christoph Straesser, a Council of Europe rapporteur for Azerbaijan
Christoph Straesser, a Council of Europe rapporteur for Azerbaijan
BAKU -- A Council of Europe rapporteur for Azerbaijan says sanctions cannot be ruled out if Baku continues to block his fact-finding visit, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The comment came in a note posted on the website of Christoph Straesser, a German parliament member, on March 23.

Straesser serves as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

In January, Straesser told RFE/RL he was unable to get a government invitation necessary for gaining a visa to visit Azerbaijan.

Straesser's March 23 note says that during a PACE session on January 24 he raised "the failure of the Azerbaijani authorities to cooperate in organizing his fact-finding visit."

"In his capacity as Rapporteur, Christoph Straesser offers the hand of friendship to his Azerbaijani colleagues and invites them to engage in cooperation on this basis and to abandon the evasiveness and stalling witnessed to date, so that an objective and balanced report can be submitted to the Committee," the note says.

"However, if cooperation is blocked and preparations for the visit cannot progress, sanctions can no longer be ruled out."

Local human rights activists give various assessments of how many political prisoners are in Azerbaijan's jails.

Leyla Yunus, head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy, tells RFE/RL there are 60 political prisoners. But another defender, Novella Jafaroglu, puts the number at 20.

Perhaps the best-known among them is journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who remains jailed on drugs charges despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that he should be released.

Azerbaijani authorities deny they are holding any political prisoners. They say the people identified as political prisoners by local human rights defenders and international watchdogs were sentenced for committing criminal offenses.

Read more in Azeri here