Azerbaijan accuses EU of meddling by criticising treatment of jailed journalists

BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday accused the European Union’s ambassador to the oil-rich country of interfering in its judicial system after the envoy said he was “appalled” by reports of the way jailed journalists were being treated.

Ten journalists have been arrested in Azerbaijan since late November, with two detained in January, pat of what critics say is a crackdown on independent media ahead of a presidential election.

The authorities say the journalists – who have been arrested on charges ranging from smuggling to petty hooliganism – have real cases to answer. One, JAM News political observer Shahin Ryazev, was released on Tuesday.

EU ambassador Peter Michalko said in a statement posted on X on Tuesday:

“I was appalled by the reports of denigrating treatment of some of the journalists recently arrested in Azerbaijan, particularly young women, handcuffed in courtroom, put in glass cages or not allowed basic human needs.

Everybody has the right to be treated with dignity & respect.”

Aykhan Hajizada, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, hit back on Wednesday, describing the EU envoy’s assertions as “both groundless and irresponsible.”

It would be better if (the) Ambassador would concentrate on (the) lack of justice and mistreatment in the court systems of certain EU countries,” Hajizada wrote on X.

“Interference in the judiciary of Azerbaijan, that was built on best international practices, is unacceptable.”

Azerbaijan, a major oil and gas producer, has stepped in to provide Europe with alternatives to Russian energy imports since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Relations between Azerbaijan and some EU member states have suffered since September, when Baku retook the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh by force, prompting a mass exodus of the territory’s ethnic Armenian population.

Azerbaijan is holding early presidential elections next month, with incumbent Ilham Aliyev widely expected to win.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku; writing by Felix Light in Tbilisi; Editing by Andrew Osborn)