President. - The next item is the debate on five motions for resolutions on Azerbaijan, in particular the case of Rafiq Tagi(1).
Charles Tannock, author. – Mr President, the tragic case of Rafiq Tagi is, regrettably, symptomatic of the culture of poor human rights in Azerbaijan, which is a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
Tagi, who was a prominent journalist, allegedly published a newspaper piece arguing that the strict adherence of President Aliyev’s regime to Islamic values was damaging any democratic credentials to which it may lay claim. Allegedly as a result of a fatwa issued by a radical Islamist cleric in Iran, Taqi was stabbed to death, most probably by a fanatic, and died four days later.
Until significant international pressure was exerted, the Azeri authorities appeared to be at best ambivalent and at worst unconcerned at Taqi’s murder, with still no clear condemnation and only limited coverage of the investigation of the circumstances surrounding his murder. Up to this point, the Iranian authorities, for their part, have neither condemned the fatwa – which appears to have been an incitement to murder – nor have they shown any sign that anyone suspected of inciting, planning or carrying out the crime on Taqi would be brought to justice.
We welcome the decision, even if it is somewhat belated, to open a criminal inquiry now into the circumstances of Taqi’s death, and we call upon the Azeri authorities to do all within their power to bring to justice the perpetrator, if he or she is apprehended, following a fair trial to international standards. We call upon the Iranian authorities, too, to cooperate fully with the investigation and to provide all the necessary evidence possible to aid it in its course, although I suspect that Tehran will, sadly, not listen to what we have to say in this House.
We are concerned at reports that Azerbaijani authorities have recently used the criminal law to stifle free debate on the issues regarding religion. We feel strongly that Azerbaijan must step up to its legal obligations, as a member of the Council of Europe, to protect human rights and freedom of speech and all the other freedoms that go with it.
Véronique De Keyser, author. – (FR) Mr President, I would like to read something out to you: ‘Without doubt, he who carried out this divine ruling and made Muslims happy will be rewarded profusely in the Hereafter. The enemies of Islam should know that the free-hearted Muslims and zealous youths of Islam shall not let the world’s arrogant powers and international Zionism carry out their evil conspiracies and plots in order to insult Islam. They will punish the religion-mongers and those who betray their religion for their shameful acts. I extend my congratulations to all Muslims of the world, especially the zealous people of Azerbaijan, on the death of Rafiq Tagi, the apostate. Meanwhile, we honour the memory of the great religious authority, late grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani (may Allah bless him), who issued a decree on the lawfulness of spilling the blood of this atheist’. This was published on the website of Sheikh Fazel Lankarani on the morning of 28 November, after Rafiq Tagi was killed.
I would like to say that, no, that is not the Islam that we defend in this Parliament. No, these are not the friends of Islam such as those whom we listened to at the Sakharov Prize award ceremony. If we are calling on the Iranian and Baku authorities to condemn this fatwa, I should also like to say that we here in Parliament wholeheartedly condemn this distortion of Islam, which we can read here and which we find elsewhere. We will always defend an Islam that is moderate and that respects freedoms.
As far as the Azerbaijani authorities are concerned, there is of course nothing to suggest that they had any involvement in this murder. I expect them to issue a strong condemnation and to protect Mr Sedagatoğlu, who is also now in danger, too.
Rui Tavares, author. – (PT) Mr President, on 10 November, Rafiq Tagi, an Azerbaijani writer and journalist, published an article entitled ‘Iran and the Inevitability of Globalisation’, in which he criticised President Ahmadinejad for discrediting Islam. In reaction to the publication of this article, a Iranian Grand Ayatollah, Fazel Lankarani, issued a fatwah calling for Mr Tagi to be killed. Nine days later, Mr Tagi was the victim of a knife attack which he did not survive, dying on 23 November.
Mr Tagi was right: Islam is an age-old religion that is only discredited by views such as those of President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Lankarani. The age-old Persian culture, which we all admire for its sophistication and advances, is tarnished by such people. The coexistence of Persian civilisation and Azerbaijani culture, which is also the product of thousands of years of neighbourhood and proximity, is severely disrupted by this type of attitude.
Let us hope that its new non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for the period 2012-2014 will lead Iran to take long-awaited measures, such as abolishing the death penalty and putting an end to the systematic and barbarous violations of human rights committed in that country against Iranian citizens, and now outside the country, against citizens of other nations.
It is obvious that we should not simply wait and see. The EU cannot merely adopt this sort of resolution. We have spoken here before, during the last sitting, about the existence of European companies helping the Iranian authorities to carry out Internet censorship of the democratic opposition in Iran, or to distort its communications. We should penalise these European companies, as otherwise our words will lack the necessary credibility.
Monica Luisa Macovei, author. – (RO) Mr President, Rafiq Tagi was a journalist and writer in Azerbaijan and criticised the Iranian Government and religious oppression in Azerbaijan. The journalist already received death threats in 2007 when an Iranian fatwa was issued, calling for his murder. On 23 November this year Rafiq Tagi was killed. Iranians or local Islamic extremists are suspected of being responsible for this killing. The Azerbaijani authorities are investigating this crime. The investigations must be conducted in a rapid, efficient and impartial manner, and the criminals and those who called for Tagi to be killed must be identified and convicted.
It is the duty of the Iranian authorities to cooperate during the investigation by providing hard information and evidence. The Iranian authorities must also urgently ban Iranian clerics from publicly calling for people to be killed. The outcome and, therefore, the responsibility for this investigation are largely connected with Iran.
I call on the Azerbaijani authorities to do everything in their power to protect the lives and safety of those living in Azerbaijan who have had a fatwa issued against them, in other words, a call for them to be killed.
Marietje Schaake, author. – Mr President, Rafiq Tagi was murdered after he exercised his universal human right of free speech. It is important that this is investigated and it is essential that the Azerbaijani authorities do so in an independent and credible manner. There is also a clear need to address the fatwa that was issued after Tagi’s critical article. It was issued by an Iranian cleric and it was not condemned sufficiently. We have to make clear that no fatwa can ever be legitimised as a licence to kill.
It is regrettable also that the Azerbaijani authorities did not condemn this fatwa more strongly and publicly, and that his safety was not guarnteed. Besides the investigation by the Azerbaijani authorities, they have to decide what kind of a society they want to have and create. The murder, which can perhaps be labelled as an ‘incident’, took place in a climate of increased pressure on human rights, civil society and opposition parties, and notably liberal parties.
If the authorities in Azerbaijan do not clearly choose, both in letter and in practice and application, to adhere to their commitments as members of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, and to the country’s other international commitments, the EU should draw consequences. We strongly hope and encourage the Azerbaijani authorities to move forward on the path towards a freer and more just society. I am not very hopeful for any collaboration by the Iranian authorities into ascertaining the role that the Iranian cleric played, but we can and must expect more from the Azerbaijani authorities and, as the EU, use our relations with Azerbaijan to pressure them.
Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (PL) Mr President, Rafiq Tagi was in fact a symbol of the free media. His family, the people of Azerbaijan and NGOs are jointly appealing for a proper and credible investigation. Let us remember that Azerbaijan is a member of the Eastern Partnership, and so I call upon all the states and governments involved in the programme to exert pressure on the Azeri authorities. It is unacceptable that citizens – and here I am thinking of Bahtiyar Hadshiev, for example – should be imprisoned for organising events on Facebook. On 10 December, International Human Rights Day, I myself organised a Facebook event called Lanterns of Freedom, which allowed thousands of people in Krakow to remember this important day and the people whose freedom is constrained. We cannot allow people to be thrown into prison for similar actions in other countries, particularly not in countries of the Eastern Partnership.
I propose that at next year's Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, the Eastern Partnership’s journalism award should go to Mr Tagi.
Kristian Vigenin, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, I have signed the joint motion for a resolution, but I would have preferred the S&D one because I think that this one went a bit too far. I would also say that a resolution in which Iran is mentioned in six paragraphs should be named differently.
The tragic case of Rafiq Taqi reveals important problems in interdependencies in that region. When we talk about Azerbaijan we should not forget who its neighbours are. We have reasons to be critical about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan; we have dealt with this issue many times in our Parliament, but we should also support the authorities of Azerbaijan in their fight against fundamentalist movements trying to gain ground in the country. This fight is not easy.
I call on the Azerbaijani Government to conduct a full investigation and to provide all relevant information to our Parliament. I also call for all possible measures to be taken to ensure the protection of Samir Sadaqatoglu, who might be another victim of the Iranian clerics. Finally, I hope that all these issues will be addressed in time, before our meeting of the Euronest Assembly in Baku.
Marie-Christine Vergiat, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FR) Mr President, I shall not speak about the murder of Mr Rafiq Tagi, nor about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, which I have discussed in this Chamber in the past.
Once again, I regret our choice of urgent topics and the way in which we deal with them. I should like to speak about the situation in the Ashraf refugee camp: the camp currently houses 3 500 people, including 1 000 women and many children. The United States has just announced that it will withdraw its troops on 31 December 2011; I am not sorry about that but I am worried that after that date the refugees in Camp Ashraf will no longer be guaranteed any protection.
What will become of them, given that the Iraqi Government still considers them to be terrorists? The UN, the Council of Europe and Ms Ashton are all calling for protection for these people. The UNHCR’s response is that it needs time. Why has the Council of Ministers refused to consider Ms Ashton’s request for the refugees with links to the Member States to be accepted?
I believe – and I am finishing now, Mr President – that, once again, it is unfortunately the French Government that is at the forefront of this issue, and I sincerely regret that.
Mitro Repo (S&D). - (FI) Mr President, Azerbaijan has numerous problems with human rights. The writer-atheist, Rafiq Tagi, who received a fatwa from an Iranian religious leader, was murdered because of his opinions and what he had said. As is well known, there have been problems with human rights violations in Azerbaijan when criminal investigations have been conducted. Other serious problems include the long prison sentences handed out to human rights defenders, opposition activists, bloggers and writers, on unjustified or totally fabricated charges.
Azerbaijan is to be a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council for the years 2012 and 2013. Can a country like Azerbaijan represent the whole international community in the UN Security Council?
Listening to civil society and dialogue with NGOs and human rights activists are vitally important in a country that respects democracy and human rights. The European Union must insist that Azerbaijan should carefully investigate the background to Mr Tagi’s assassination and take the relevant practical steps.
Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE). - (FI) Mr President, the situation with regard to democracy in Azerbaijan is worrying. The latest cause for concern is the recent murder of a journalist. Rafiq Tagi criticised both the current regime in Iran and Islamic values in relation to European ones. The criticism led to several death threats and, ultimately, to murder.
It surely was no coincidence that the murder took place on the International Day to End Impunity, a day when the unsolved murders of journalists are remembered around the world. At present in the world, there are around 251 cases of the murder of a journalist that remain unsolved. It will not come as a surprise that, so far, no one has been caught or charged with Rafiq Tagi’s murder either.
Murder is an extreme way to restrict freedom of speech. Those who raise delicate matters get to pay for it with their lives. In some countries, this is a systematic solution. What on earth is the point of international human rights agreements if a signatory country can freely trample over people’s human rights? It is important to find the murderer, but still more important to find and punish those who order the murders of journalists.
Corina Creţu (S&D). – (RO) Mr President, I too wish to express my regret at the death of journalist Rafiq Tagi , and I utterly condemn this heinous murder which highlights the consequences of religious extremism for human rights, primarily the basic right to life.
The killing of this prominent journalist casts serious doubts on the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan. This state of affairs is especially worrying as this country is a member of the Eastern Partnership and the Council of Europe, and actively participates in the European Neighbourhood Policy. However, in spite of its international partnerships, Azerbaijan has still failed to show its serious commitment to guaranteeing press freedom and protecting activists promoting respect for fundamental freedoms.
I too make an appeal to the Azerbaijani authorities to carry out an urgent, impartial investigation into the circumstances of Rafiq Tagi ’s stabbing and to take full responsibility in putting an end to the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of the crimes committed in the name of religion.
I also call on the Commission and the other European institutions to make any progress in cooperation with Azerbaijan conditional upon guaranteeing respect for human rights.
Norica Nicolai (ALDE). – (RO) Mr President, I too endorse what Mr Vigenin said. I believe that we need to be extremely vigilant about the subjects we choose for these debates.
Apart from the regrettable event which took place in Azerbaijan, there is one point we must absolutely stress: this type of crime has no borders. I believe that we need to cooperate, every Member State, in endeavouring to prevent such actions happening, which are certainly very cruel. However, I do not think that we can condemn Azerbaijan for this murder.
All that we can ask of Azerbaijan is for it to take action and try to conduct the investigation much more quickly and efficiently, because identifying and convicting the perpetrator is a significant tool of persuasion for ensuring that such heinous crimes are prevented.
Jaroslav Paška (EFD). - (SK) Mr President, Azerbaijan is a friend of the European Union and is making efforts to gradually democratise its political environment. However, Islamic influence is fairly intense due to the radical Iranian regime in Azerbaijan’s neighbourhood. Some proof of that is provided by the murder of Rafiq Tagi, which was probably committed on the basis of a fatwa issued by an Iranian spiritual leader. The European Union must be more active in encouraging the population of Azerbaijan to adopt the civilised democratic way of life. It is therefore appropriate to express some concern to the Azerbaijani Government over the superficial way in which it has conducted the investigation into the murder of Rafiq Tagi. We must strive to ensure that the Azerbaijani regime genuinely cooperates with the European Union in building a democratic system.
Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, the developments in Azerbaijan in the field of democracy and human rights continue to be a matter of concern to the European Union. We are deeply worried abut the fact that over the last few years we have noted a trend of increasing restrictions in this domain.
Over recent months we have witnessed several severe actions taken by the authorities vis-à-vis organised street protests, as well as attempts to organise protests inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.
The detention of activists and other repressive measures against protesters are indeed deeply regrettable. This crackdown on civil society is paralleled by worsening conditions for freedom of expression in the country, while the space for independent media outlets seems to be shrinking. In the recent past several journalists have been harassed, convicted on unclear charges or physically attacked.
In this context we are particularly saddened about the death of Rafiq Tagi on 23 November. During our recent session of the Subcommittee on Justice, Freedom, Security and Human rights and Democracy as well as during the EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council, we made a firm call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to carry out a swift and impartial investigation in this case and to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.
The EU has a responsibility to convey clear messages on the importance of democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law, which are cornerstones in our cooperation with Azerbaijan.
The level of ambition of the EU’s relationship with Azerbaijan will take into account the extent to which these values are reflected in national practices and policy implementation.
Vice-President Ashton had the opportunity to pass this message on during her visit to Baku last month. In this context I would also like to recall the joint declaration of the Warsaw Eastern Partnership Summit, where all participants committed to respect the values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. Of course I also welcome the role of the European Parliament in advocating democratic values to the partners in Azerbaijan.
President. – The debate is closed.
The vote will take place at the end of the debates.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE), in writing. – (PL) Despite its 20 years of independence and the fact that it is one of most rapidly developing countries in the world in economic terms, an authoritarian regime and control over citizens’ social life is still enforced in Azerbaijan. Limiting and violating fundamental human rights by threatening and silencing people who have dared to criticise the authorities is an everday occurrence. The independent media and opposition journalists, who are often imprisoned because of the contents of their publications, are in a particularly bad situation. The government remains indifferent to their fate, and a good example of this is the case of Rafiq Tagi. Tagi had been given a prison sentence for inciting religious hatred as a result of his activities as a journalist. His articles had caused discontent among Muslims, who issued a fatwa condemning him to death, and the authorities did not protect him from these threats. A few weeks ago, Rafiq Tagi died as a result of injuries inflicted by unknown perpetrators. This event coincided with the International Day to End Impunity and gave rise to protests from journalists around the world, who have called for a stop to be put to the murdering of their colleagues and have demanded that the culprits be punished. We should show solidarity with the Azeri media and strive to maintain freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, as well as calling upon the international community to put an end to impunity for attacks on journalists not only in this country, but all over the world.