Germany calls for release of activists in Azerbaijan


As Germany's soccer team prepares for Wednesday's World Cup qualifying match against Azerbaijan, the German government's human rights commissioner is using the event to call for the release of two civil rights activists.

Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were arrested for hooliganism in Azerbaijan in July, a charge they claim is grossly unfair. The young men had been sitting quietly in a cafe when they were beaten up by two other men and subsequently arrested by local police.

They were later tried in a closed court and sentenced to two months in detention for breach of the peace.

The incident occurred immediately after Milli had given a detailed and frank interview with Germany's ZDF public broadcaster on the state of Azerbaijan's human rights record.

Since the arrest, Germany's human rights commissioner, Guenter Nooke, for whom Milli was to have worked as an interpretor, has repeatedly called on the authorities in Azerbaijan to release the men, but his demands have not been met.

If there is a second trial, the two civil rights activists could be sentenced to a further three years behind bars. Their assailants, meanwhile, have been set free.

In the glare of the floodlights

Now, with international attention fixed on Azerbaijan for the soccer match on Wednesday, Nooke has made a fresh appeal both to the authorities and the world at large.

"Sport, especially soccer connects people and different nationalities," Nooke said in a statement released by the foreign office in Berlin ahead of Wednesday's match. He added that the qualifying match is also an opportunity to take a closer look at the guest country.

And in the case of Azerbaijan, he said the human rights situation in Azerbaijan was "not satisfactory."

He said that in the course of his travels to and within Azerbaijan, he had frequently witnessed how young people critical of the government were arrested for staged and dubious crimes.

"This case must not be allowed to be swept under the carpet," Nooke said. "Once again, I call on the government in Baku to release Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade."


Editor: Chuck Penfold

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