June 12, upon the opening of the first-ever European Games today in Baku, Azerbaijan, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement:
“For the next 17 days, the eyes of Europe will be on Baku. It is sad that the European Olympic Committees do not require that a potential host government take human rights seriously. The colorful festivities in Baku must not blind anyone to the Azerbaijani government’s terrible and worsening human rights record.
“Over the past two years, the government has sharply curtailed media freedom. Last month’s closure of the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) bureau in Baku was the culmination of a months-long campaign to silence one of the last free media sources in the country. RFE/RL investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova remains in jail on trumped-up criminal charges, and scores of other journalists, civil society activists, and religious believers are also imprisoned on politically motivated charges.
“Azerbaijan’s recent unilateral closure of the OSCE Project Coordinator’s office in Baku underscores its complete disregard for the OSCE commitments to which it has pledged to adhere.”