The EP went further than in previous statements by also calling on “EU authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the corruption allegations against President Aliyev and members of his family revealed by the work of the investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova”. Ismayilova, an award-winning investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL, was sentenced to seven-and-half years in prison on charges of economic crimes after publishing several stories of corruption concerning the President’s family.
In addition, the EP requested to immediately put negotiations for a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Azerbaijan on hold as long the government fails to take concrete steps to safeguard universal human rights in the country, and to review and temporarily suspend all funding not related to civil society and people-to-people cooperation granted to Azerbaijan. It also proposed travel bans and other sanctions for Azerbaijani officials and judges involved in persecuting political opponents.
In response, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry cancelled a visit to Baku by an EU foreign policy team, and summoned the EU delegation head Malena Mard to hand her a protest note. A group of people held a protest rally in front of the EU’s representation office in Baku, chanting “Don’t interfere with Azerbaijan’s internal affairs!” and “Stop your pro-Armenian position!”
On September 14, Azerbaijan’s parliament, Milli Mejlis, held an extraordinary meeting and voted to suspend its participation in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, a body set up in 2011 as a forum for dialogue between the EU and its “Eastern Neighbors” – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Members of Azerbaijan’s parliament termed its European counterparts “biased” and “destructive,” urging a revision of Baku’s cooperation with the EU and demanding that that the EP “put an end to its destructive activities undermining EU-Azerbaijan relations, stop the practice of adopting biased anti-Azerbaijani resolutions referring to false accusations against our country under the influence of various forces.” The legislators also stressed that any sanctions imposed on Azerbaijani officials would be countered with a ban on visits by EP members.
“The European Parliament’s resolution on Azerbaijan is completely groundless. It’s a political provocation based on lies, slander and prejudice … Today Azerbaijan is in good hands, no one can put pressure on us, affect our policy,” President Aliyev tweeted on September 16. Speaking on September 15 at the opening ceremony of a new school in Baku, Aliyev called on the country’s youth to stay away from “foreign influence and the so-called Western values that our people do not share … Look at the horrific developments taking place in Europe and the abuses the miserable people fleeing a war are facing there. Are those in fact European values? Are those actually the values they have been talking about for years?”
While condemning Azerbaijan for human rights abuses, the EP left room for economic cooperation and its resolution said that “sectoral cooperation is mutually beneficial, especially in the energy sector; whereas Azerbaijan has the potential to become one of the EU’s major commercial partners.” Starting in 2019, Azerbaijan will be sending 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe per year from its offshore Shah Deniz II field. One week after the EP adopted the resolution, Shahin Mustafayev, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Economic Development, met with the EU’s representative in Azerbaijan, discussing “prospects for regional development, relations in non-oil sectors and agriculture, and organizing the EU-Azerbaijan Business Forum in 2016.”
Days before the EP’s resolution, Azerbaijan’s First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva visited Paris where she was welcomed by President Francois Hollande at the Elysée Palace and opened a photo-exhibition titled “Azerbaijan: Land of Tolerance.” As Aliyeva was opening the exhibition, a French national television reporter asked her, “Is your country really a land of tolerance?” “Yes, of course,” Aliyeva answered. When the journalist insisted that Azerbaijan has one of the world’s worst human rights records and “many political prisoners in jail,” Aliyeva urged the reporter to “get correct information.”