No environment for free and fair elections
(16/10-2008) - Yesterdays' presidential election in the Republic of Azerbaijan took place in an environment where free and fair elections are not possible, says head of information in The Norwegian Helsinki Committee Berit Lindeman, who is currently in Baku monitoring the election. Some of the basic conditions for holding elections are public debate, a free press and equal conditions for all political forces in the country. Neither is present in Azerbaijan, says Lindeman.
While it is regrettable that the main opposition did not take part in the elections, their decision to boycott the elections is understandable. The opposition forces have over years operated in an environment of harassment and violence and only marginally been allowed to participate in real political processes. At the same time, none of the elections the last ten years have been considered free and fair. Falsifications of election results and unequal treatment of pro-governmental and opposition forces has been widespread. The government has also failed to create meaningful conditions for holding public meetings, in violation of the fundamental freedom of assembly.
The free media and critical journalism has largely been silenced, thus taking away a basic condition for public debate. Numerous attacks against the media and its representatives have been recorded. The killing of Elmar Huseynov in 2005 remains unsolved. The journalists Sakit Zahidov, his brother Qanimat Zahidov, Eunullah Fattulayev, Mushfig Huseynov and Novruzali Mammedov have been sentenced to long prison terms and are considered prisoners of conscience.
President Ilham Aliyev was yesterday declared the winner of these elections, with 89 % of the votes. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee want to take this opportunity to address the President and encourage his Presidency to take all necessary steps to open up the society to dissenting voices and allow a free press. This is an absolute premise for creating an environment for future free and fair elections. The Republic of Azerbaijan is currently establishing a modern and economically powerful state. A democratic state is a necessary condition for further development.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee urges the international community to reinforce its pressure on the government of Azerbaijan to:
· Free and acquit all political prisoners
· Allow a free press
· Create equal conditions for all political forces