Europe body concerned over Azerbaijan opposition sentences

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The Council of Europe on Wednesday said it was very concerned by jail sentences that Azerbaijan recently slapped on opposition activists who had tried to hold an unauthorised protest.

"Without the freedom of expression and the freedom of association there is no democracy," said Thorbjoern Jagland, the secretary general of the pan-European human rights and cultural body.

"This is why I am deeply concerned at the sentences handed down on 3 October" to four opposition activists who in April had tried to hold an unauthorised pro-democracy protest in the oil-rich former Soviet republic, he said.

The men were held in April when police with batons and rubber bullets broke up the protest inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, detaining scores of activists in the capital of the energy-rich former Soviet republic.

Three of them -- chief of staff of the opposition Musavat party Arif Hajili, the chairman of its youth wing Tural Abbasli and an official from the Popular Front party Mohammed Mejidli -- were jailed for two and a half years for organising an illegal action and resisting the authorities.

Another activist, Popular Front party deputy chairman Fuad Gahramanly, was sentenced to a year of probation.

Opposition parties complain of a lack of democratic rights and free speech in authoritarian Azerbaijan, which is an important supplier of oil and gas to the West.

© 2011 AFP

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