Quarrel over Definition of Political Prisoners Leads to Split in the Council of Europe
STRASBOURG, France, June 28, 2012 /PRNewswire/ –
The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe (PACE) this week narrowly approved two controversial reports on the
political definition of political prisoners and the issue of political prisoners
specifically in Azerbaijan by special rapporteur Christoph Strasser.
The reports were adopted by a close vote of 26-22 and 25-23 respectively in favour,
highly unusual; as such decisions are generally carried by consensus.
The Assembly split over the proposed criteria as outlined by three experts in 2001,
who based their work on political prisoners during the civil war in Namibia, some 25 years
ago. Many Members of Parliament (MP) argued that these out-dated criteria could not be
objective standards for Council of Europe member states today, which includes Azerbaijan.
MPs from Italy and Spain urged to respect Article 17 of the European Court of Human
Rights, which stipulates the right of the state to defend its constitutional order against
groups that want to overthrow it.
They expressed deep concern about the fact that detained Islamic extremists, sponsored
by Iran and publicly calling for the establishment of Sharia law through violent means in
Azerbaijan – which neighbours Iran – should be released immediately, according to the
report by Straesser. They stressed that this would create a serious precedent for all
Council of Europe member states, which are facing similar challenges from Islamic
“It is scandalous that extreme religious groups sponsored by Iran and terrorists in my
country have been defined as political prisoners,” said Elkhan Suleymanov (MP, Azerbaijan)
in the wake of the close vote.
“These reports are full of prejudices and falsehoods and represent a bad precedent for
all member states. We need to have an open and transparent public debate to avoid double
standards. The absence of such debate and lack of understanding of international
benchmarks would harm the image of the Council of Europe, being the bastion of human
rights,” Suleymanov said
Belgian MPs further pointed out judicial flaws in the reports, as rapporteur Straesser
refers to pending cases before the ECHR, giving a private opinion and thus interfering in
the judicial process. The MPs called on the Assembly – the legislative body of the Council
of Europe – to abstain from making legal assessments on individual cases, noting that this
could pose a serious threat to the independence of the Court and undermine its
There is no widely accepted definition of political prisoners in the international
community. The United Nations and Amnesty International refer to “prisoners of
conscience.” The narrow approval by the Namibia-inspired documents has now exposed a
serious political split on this issue in the Council of Europe.
The final vote on both reports will take place during the plenary session of the
Assembly in October/November.
SOURCE Azerbaijan Monitor