Muscat to visit Azerbaijan by month's end

The visit coincides with the publication of a damning Amnesty International report on human rights in the country

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is to visit to Azerbaijan before the end of the month April to join discussions at the 3rd Global Shared Societies Forum and deliver a speech on the European Union and its neighbourhood policy, according to Azeri media.

Muscat had previously visited Azerbaijan in December 2014, discussing issues of cooperation between the two countries in a variety of areas during several official meetings.  

The meeting comes shortly after human rights organisation Amnesty International released a report describing human rights in Azerbaijan, as having reached a nadir.
Amnesty had reported that there were at least 22 prisoners of conscience awaiting trial “following trumped-up charges ranging from fraud and embezzlement to abuse of drugs and even treason”.

The report lists cases such as that of 60-year-old human rights defender Leyla Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, who was jailed by the regime after calling for a boycott of the Games. Her husband, Arif, has also been imprisoned.
It is thought that at least 98 individuals are currently languishing in jail at the order of the president, Ilham Aliyev, amid a increasingly harsh crackdown on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

The Amnesty report details the widespread repression of journalists, activists and NGOs in the runup to the European Games, due to begin on 12 June and featuring athletes from 50 countries competing in 20 Olympic and non-Olympic sports.

Amnesty’s director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen explained that “no one should be fooled by the glitz and glamour of the international show Azerbaijan is putting on to portray a squeaky-clean international reputation and attract foreign business.  Its authorities are among the most repressive in Europe and would certainly be on the medal-winning podium if prizes were on offer for the number of activists and rights defenders behind bars.”

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