The European Parliament condemned what it called an "unprecedented” government crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan and called for the immediate release of “political prisoners" including journalists and human-rights activists.
In a resolution Thursday, lawmakers urged European Union authorities to investigate corruption allegations against President Ilham Aliyev and members of his family by a reporter who’s since been jailed. The Azeri leader rejects accusations of graft, and denies that the Caspian Sea nation has any political prisoners.
The resolution risks aggravating ties between the EU and Azerbaijan, which the 28-member bloc sees as an alternative source of natural gas to Russia. The former Soviet Union’s third-largest oil producer, an investment destination for companies such as BP Plc, is set to export 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year to the EU via a U.S.-backed pipeline starting 2021.
The EU, as well as the U.S. and international rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have previously labeled the imprisonment of journalists and activists as politically motivated. Aliyev said Tuesday that “some forces” spent “tens of millions” of dollars in 2011 and 2012 in a failed bid to trigger an “Arab Spring” uprising in Azerbaijan with the help of local agents.