A group of Czech NGOs has written an open letter to top Czech officials urging them to prioritize human rights in their meetings with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during his upcoming April visit to Prague.
The letter, signed by the NESEHNUTÍ Independent Social Ecological Movement, People in Need, and the DEMAS Association for Democracy Assistance and Human Rights, is addressed to Czech President Miloš Zaman, Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, and Senate President Milan Štěch.
Specifically, the NGOs urged the three officials to call for greater legal protection for freedom of expression, assembly, and association, as well as an end to politically motivated trials – including the case of detained Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center Chairman Anar Mammadli. Further, they called for a public press conference to enable an open discussion with Aliyev.
The Czech Republic has, at times, taken a strong stance on human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The former Foreign Minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, came under fire in April 2013 for calling Aliyev’s regime a “family dictatorship that has been oppressing the country for many years.” Schwarzenberg refused to apologize for the remarks, despite Aliyev’s statement that Schwarzenberg was not welcome in Azerbaijan unless he did so. “I will not apologize for having told the truth,” Schwarzenberg said.
However, these comments do not seem to have had a lasting negative impact on overall bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic. President Aliyev and Czech President Zaman met as recently as February in Sochi, where they reportedly praised the development of relations between the two countries and discussed enhancing cooperation in areas such as agriculture, trade, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals.
The two countries enjoy strong trade relations, with the Czech Republic being one of the top five export destinations for Azerbaijani products. But interests in the country seem to run deeper for the Azerbaijani elite.
In 2012, RFE/RL journalist Khadija Ismayilova, along with two Czech journalists, published a report revealing the extensive business interests in the Czech Republic of the Aliyev family and other members of the ruling elite – including investments in property, hotels, and luxury villas, as well as ownership of companies based in the Czech Republic.
Azerbaijani and Czech officials have not yet commented on the letter.