In a diplomatic upset, Azerbaijan has refused Swiss parliamentarian Nik Gugger entry to Azerbaijan, where he was due to monitor the upcoming presidential election for the OSCE. Baku’s decision may have been influenced by Gugger’s support for the Armenian Christians of Nagorno Karabakh.
Nik Gugger is a parliamentarian and OSCE election monitor. Photo: facebook.com/nik.gugger
Baku’s refusal to allow entry to a Swiss parliamentarian over the weekend has caused consternation in Bern. The Swiss foreign ministry summoned Azerbaijan’s ambassador on February 5 to explain why Baku had refused entry to Nik Gugger, an official election monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Gugger, a member of the Swiss National Council, was due to observe the February 7 Azerbaijani presidential elections as part of a Swiss delegation. However, as Gugger told Swiss media, the Azerbaijani authorities detained him as soon as his plane touched down in Baku on the night of February 2. Gugger was not told why Baku had decided to refuse him entry.
The politician’s passport was confiscated and he was held for three hours before being deported to Istanbul escorted by police.
Gugger finally landed back in Zurich after a 30-hour ordeal. The parliamentarian, who represents the Christian EVP party, described the incident as a “scandal.” Gugger, 53, has previously been involved in similar OSCE missions in Russia and Moldova.
In a statement on February 5, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) wrote that it had made clear to the Azerbaijani ambassador “Switzerland’s displeasure at the unacceptable treatment of National Councillor Gugger.” It added, “The FDFA demands an official explanation for this incident from Azerbaijan.”
Commenting three days after the incident, Gugger said the Azerbaijani ambassador had told him he was refused entry because of his membership in the Council of Europe – Europe’s leading human rights organization.
Azerbaijan on January 24 announced it was suspending its cooperation with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Baku accused the body of “Azerbaijanophobia and Islamophobia,” after it condemned Baku’s forced displacement of the Armenian Christian population of Nagorno Karabakh last September.
“I was on this blacklist as someone who is a member of the Council of Europe,” Gugger told Swiss public television.
In addition to his role as an election observer, Gugger is also committed to helping the displaced Christian Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh. In February 2023, as Azerbaijan’s siege of Nagorno Karabakh was underway, Gugger took part in a demonstration organized by Christian Solidarity International (CSI) in front of the parliament building in Bern.
Although he is unable to be in Baku for Wednesday’s election, Gugger has said he is prepared to travel to Azerbaijan again to be present when the election results are presented. “I see myself as a bridge builder and am offering my support after the incident on Saturday,” he told the media.
President Ilham Aliyev, who has been in power since 2003, and whose father ruled Azerbaijan for forty-three years, faces no meaningful opposition and is expected to be declared the election winner. The Economist Democracy Index describes Azerbaijan as an “authoritarian” state and ranks it 134th out of 167 countries. Since the snap presidential election was announced in December, Azerbaijani journalists and human rights activists have been targeted with a wave of arrests.