The Council of Europe yesterday adopted a damning report on the state of Malta’s rule of law and the reaction of the Maltese authorities to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The report was overwhelmingly approved in the parliamentary assembly, with 72 European MPs voting in favour, 18 against and three abstaining. Amongst those 18 dissidents were five MPs from Azerbaijan, whose country was occasionally referred to in the report compiled by Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt.
Omtzigt mentioned that the daughters of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev had held accounts at the now-defunct Maltese bank Pilatus Bank and that the Electrogas power station deal allowed Azeri state-owned energy company SOCAR to provide Malta with LNG at a price well above the market rate. In the same paragraph, Omtzigt noted that Electrogas director Yorgen Fenech owns the Dubai company 17 Black, which was found to have received large sums of money from an Azeri national.
This is how the four Azeri MPs who participated in the debate criticised the report.
“We’re witnessing a new type of hybrid, information war and we’re witnessing values and principles for sale. I definitely believe there should be a serious investigation, not only into who killed an investigative journalist, but also into political corruption in Europe. In the coming of days, we’ve heard a lot of suspicion that some networks and lobbying groups were buying politicians. I’m against Omtzigt using tragedy for his own goal; he is participating in a hybrid war against Azerbaijan, which is in itself an attack on European values.”
“This is a sad moment, and I express my condolences to the journalist’s family. It’s so difficult for the family to listen to these discussions because tragedy is tragedy, but unfortunately some people are trying to use this tragedy for their own political objectives.”
“We’ve already seen how human rights are used as a pressure on countries and now we’re witnessing corruption, which we should fight together, being used against states and countries as a tool to pressure them.”
“Omtzigt mentioned my country because they’re in official negotiations with Malta, as it is with all European states, such as the UK, Italy and France. Why aren’t you including all these countries in this case? This is an example of Omtzigt trying to mislead the international community, trying to insult Azerbaijan and the name of my president and his family to create an atmosphere that Azerbaijan is a corrupt country.”
“This is the real corruption and this isn’t a question of Malta, which has done a great job. Nobody’s perfect and I hope investigations will go on but I ask my colleagues to think that, behind these reports, lie the rapporteur’s own objectives, which we should prevent.”
“It is unacceptable when a journalist gets assassinated and when obstacles arise during the investigation of corruption and organised crime. However, it is also unacceptable when essential discussions are used to raise issues that serve someone’s personal interests.”
“It’s not acceptable when important issues are used to attract attention to unverified, and sometimes, made-up facts. Its unacceptable when sensitive issues are used as the mechanism of manipulation. I ask Otzigt why he’s doing this. Is it an attempt to make Azerbaijan turn away from the path of democracy, an attempt to blackmail Azerbaijan and ruin its image as a country whose economy is growing and is an energy-producing country?”
“My answer is No. Even if you put the name of my country on reports mentioning un-existing facts, you will never turn Azerbaijan away from its way of development and cooperation with the Council of Europe.”
“I strongly urge you to redirect your initiatives and energy to things that aren’t only important to you but for the organisation. Are you fighting for human rights and justice? Do you really care about the people of Azerbaijan? Then speak about the one million refugees who left their homes due to the occupation of Armenia, speak of the innocent children who are being killed by Armenian shells while they’re playing in their yards.”
“I didn’t intend to speak on these groundless accusations but my country’s image has been wrongly accused by some of my colleagues and I’m compelled to comment. Statements full of groundless accusations against Azerbaijan voiced by the representatives of some countries here are of no surprise to us.”
“Azerbaijan has strongly condemned this heinous crime but it’s not the first time we’ve seen a slanderous campaign organised by some against our country, where things are taken out of context and presented in an absolutely different shape to expand the campaign to discredit my country in European institutions.”
“Undoubtedly, mentioning my country was another task for those who want to spoil the relationship between Azerbaijan and Europe and the West in general. These attacks are against the principles of pluralism and accountability and an attack against democracy. Instead of accusing any country, we MPs should get together and play a key role in proposing protection measures and implementing actions to reinforce the protection of journalists.”
“Freedom of expression and the free press are fundamental to all democracies and our mobilisation is key for the future of media freedom.”