A partnership between Aberystwyth University’s and an Azerbaijani academy has been condemned as “caviar diplomacy” by a Welsh MP.
West Newport’s Labour MP Paul Flynn roundly condemned the decision to partner with the “foul and oppressive regime” of Azerbaijan, claiming: “It’s about propaganda, it is not about education.”
The partnership is a “memorandum of understanding” with the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, a school of international relations established by Azerbaijan ministry of foreign affairs in 2006.
Human Rights Watch released a report in September saying: “The Azerbaijani government is engaged in a deliberate, abusive strategy to limit dissent. The strategy is designed to curtail opposition political activity, limit public criticism of the government, and exercise greater control over nongovernmental organizations.”
An Aberystwyth University spokesperson said: “Aberystwyth University has respected and well established links with higher education institutions in countries across around the world with very different political systems and structures.”
“The Memorandum of Understanding is specifically with the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy.”
Mr Flynn told The Independent he was confused by the university’s decision to partner with the academy.
“They say there is no money involved but I am sure it’s favourable for the university,” he said.
As part of the partnership Aberystwyth and the academy signed a formal exchange agreement, hosting students from each country for up to a full academic year.
The spokesperson continued: “Students taking part in the exchange programme pay tuition fees to their respective institutions. There will be no direct financial benefit to either institution.”
In April this year the Azerbajini authorities closed down the Azad Fikir University (Free Thought University) in a move condemned by the international organisation Scholars at Risk.
On Twitter, Mr Flynn said: “Weak defence of Aberystwyth exchanges with Azerbaijan that jails students, condones racial murder, rigs elections & persecutes oppositions.”
A spokesperson for Amnesty International said: “Azerbaijan is trying to project an image of a country which respects human rights. But the reality could not be more different.
“Journalists, political and civil society activists are being routinely jailed, threatened and harassed.”
Azerbaijan scored 6.57 out of seven in a Free House assessment of the lack of democratic freedom in the country.
Free House is an independent organisation monitoring the expression of freedom around the world.