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U.S. Official Urges Azerbaijan To Improve Human Rights

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Democracy, Thomas Melia
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Democracy, Thomas Melia
BAKU -- A visiting U.S. State Department official said in Baku that Washington is urging Azerbaijan to improve its rights record and "open up" its political process, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Thomas Melia, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said on June 16 that "we have been urging our friends in the Azerbaijani government to take steps to move toward greater respect for human rights and opening up the political process [in Azerbaijan]."

"Support for democratization and greater respect for human rights is a priority for our bilateral relationships with Azerbaijan," he said.

Melia added that RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service and its ban from FM broadcasts "is really important to us and we tried to convey that to our colleagues in the Azerbaijani government.... There is no good reason why Radio Liberty shouldn't be broadcast [in Azerbaijan]."

Azerbaijani authorities suspended the retransmission of RFE/RL's Azeri-language broadcasts in 2009.

Melia also focused on Azerbaijan's poor track record in ensuring free and fair elections.

"I think all experts agree that there are some major impediments to fair elections, to the free functioning of the media, and the operation of the opposition's political parties," he said. "All of these things need to be resolved for Azerbaijan to modernize and to join the ranks of the 21st century countries that are succeeding.

Melia added that "we are cooperating with Azerbaijan in many fields and we'll continue to press for further improvements on democracy and human rights as part of our partnership."

Melia said he met the leaders of extraparliamentary political parties, media representatives, civil and human rights activists, and journalists.

He also visited the grave of opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov, whose murder six years ago remains unsolved.

Melia said he hopes "progress can be made on that, and that other threats to independent journalism can be removed and...journalists can do [their] jobs as [they] should in a modern and democratic Azerbaijan."