We have serious concerns on these issues and regularly raise them at all levels with the Government of Azerbaijan. The EU last reviewed progress on the EU European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan for Azerbaijan with members of the Government of Azerbaijan on 18 October 2007. The EU underlined the importance of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as identifying further steps to strengthen democracy and media freedom.
Despite some positive legislative reform, freedom of expression and freedom of the media has deteriorated significantly in the last two years. A number of journalists have been jailed under criminal libel laws that have restricted debate. Others have faced harassment and beatings. We have raised these issues and specific cases regularly with the authorities, most recently with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe have identified a number of shortcomings in the judicial system. The Ministry of Justice has taken important steps to improve the training of judges, but there is still significant room for improvement.
The political Opposition faces impediments to its ability to operate freely. Together with international partners, we have stressed to the Government of Azerbaijan how important it is that the forthcoming Presidential elections are held in full compliance with the commitments undertaken to the EU, OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and Council of Europe.