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Senior EU Officials Voice Concern Over Azerbaijan Sentences

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek has called for the release of "all remaining political prisoners" in Azerbaijan.
BAKU -- Two senior European Union officials have expressed concern over the recent sentencing of 14 participants in a quashed opposition protest demonstration in Baku in early April, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Thirteen of the activists in recent weeks received prison terms ranging from 1 1/2 to three years on charges of violating public order and resisting officials. One received a suspended prison term.

Responding by e-mail on October 13 to a question submitted by RFE/RL, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek called for the release of "all remaining political prisoners" in Azerbaijan.

Buzek stressed that "the EU wants to be a key partner in building a modern, prosperous, and democratic Azerbaijan. I hope that the dialogue and openness for freedom of expression, media pluralism, and constructive engagement with the opposition and civil society will be further strengthened."

Buzek said Baku's relationship with the EU "would become even stronger with more progress on human rights and political freedoms."

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement calling on Baku to ensure a fair appeal process for the activists.

In the October 12 statement, Ashton reaffirmed the importance the EU attaches to fundamental freedoms, including freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, in its relations with partner countries.

"These are core values at the heart of the Eastern Partnership and the ongoing negotiation of an Association Agreement with Azerbaijan. The rule of law in the country must ensure that those principles are respected, that court proceedings are free of political interference, and that independent lawyers work with no impediments," the statement said. "The High Representative therefore calls on Azerbaijan to provide for a fair and transparent appeal process."

More in Azerbaijani here