Last weekend Azerbaijani authorities violently dispersed peaceful rallies organised by the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), an umbrella organisation of opposition parties, and civil society groups protesting against gender violence. Dozens of participants were detained, beaten and otherwise mistreated, including Ali Karimli, the leader of the opposition People’s Front.

“This latest violent crackdown is yet more evidence of the blatant contempt the Aliyev regime has for the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and assembly, and the country’s international commitments. To add to that, the violence was accompanied by a state-run smear campaign against the opposition and civil society activists, including an unprecedented attack on the EU diplomats fulfilling their professional tasks,” said Kati Piri, the S&D vice-president responsible for foreign affairs.

“Repression against the women activists who gathered peacefully to draw attention to gender violence in particular, exposes the hollowness and hypocrisy of the Azerbaijani government’s professed commitment to gender equality,” pointed out Piri.

“We urge the High Representative Federica Mogherini and the European Commission to suspend further negotiations on the new agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan until the Azerbaijani government commits itself fully to the respect of fundamental rights. Azerbaijan authorities must finally respect freedom of assembly, stop dismantling civil society and release all peaceful protesters, human rights activists or political prisoners that remain in detention,” added Tonino Picula S&D coordinator on foreign affairs.