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Azerbaijan Report: January 26, 2004

26 January 2004
Rights Group Assails New Azeri Leadership
"Azerbaijan is experiencing its gravest human rights crisis of the past 10 years and the government must take immediate steps to end the repression," Human Rights Watch said in a new report released on 23 January. The international monitoring group condemned the Azeri authorities for violent repression of the opposition, hundreds of arbitrary arrests, widespread beatings and torture against members and supporters of the political opposition following the October presidential elections, which were widely criticized by international organizations. HRW accused the authorities of committing electoral fraud and of using the post-election riots as a pretext for a massive crackdown on the opposition.

"Many hoped that Azerbaijan's admission to the Council of Europe would encourage the government finally to hold free and fair elections. These hopes were crushed. The Parliamentary Assembly must adopt a strong resolution making clear that Azerbaijan's credentials are at risk unless the government remedies the situation," the statement reads.

Human Rights Watch urged the Azeri authorities to establish an independent commission with significant international participation to investigate the electoral fraud; examine allegations of physical abuse and torture and discipline or prosecute those found responsible; and immediately review the cases of all remaining detainees arrested on suspicion of involvement in the 15-16 October violence.

The U.S. State Department too has called on the Azeri government to expedite the investigation of opposition activists still detained following disputed presidential elections. "We believe the authorities should either charge those arrested with crimes and present the evidence against them or release them. And we call on the authorities to proceed in accordance with international standards and to provide all appropriate legal protections and due process to all the detainees," U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said at a 21 January briefing.

Meanwhile, 10 persons arrested in the wake of the 15-16 October mass disorders were released pending trial on 21 January on the grounds that they "did not contribute to organizing riots." The freed persons denied an official allegation that they pleaded guilty and appealed to President Ilham Aliyev for their release.

According to a joint statement by the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General's Office, the criminal investigation of 40 persons detained for the post-election mass riots has been completed and their cases have been submitted to the court. The investigation of remaining cases will be completed in the near future, the statement reads.

(Maarif Chingizoglu and Etibar Rasulov)

Committee for Rights of Musavat Activist Established
"The editor-in-chief of the 'Yeni Musavat' paper is innocent and the accusations brought against him are baseless. His arrest is politically ordered," according to the newly created Committee for the Rights of Rauf Arifoglu. Arifoglu, who is also a deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat party, was arrested on 27 October on charges of organizing mass disturbances after the presidential vote on 15 October. The prosecutor's office has extended his detention term for another three months on the grounds that the investigation against him has yet to be completed.

Deputy Prosecutor General Eldar Nuriev acknowledged that there are some media representatives among those detained. But they have been brought to account not as journalists, but for inciting mass disorders and resisting the police. Nuriev also denied the allegations that there were no grounds for extending the investigation.

Prior to President Ilham Aliyev's official visit to France on 22-23 January, Reporters Without Borders urged French President Jacques Chirac to raise the case of a prominent detained editor and to try to obtain his release during the visit. "The European Union, Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are all waiting for Azerbaijan's new leader to take up the challenge of bringing in democratic reforms," said the international press freedom organization in a letter to the French head of state on 21 January.

(Rovshen Ganbarov and Etibar Rasulov)

Great Silk Road Changes into Transit Zone for Drug Trafficking
"Azeri customs agents have revealed 226 cases of drug smuggling from 1999-2003 and confiscated 123 kg of drugs and some 24,000 consignments of various psychotropic medications. 223 persons from eight countries, including 11 women, have been detained." These figures were presented at a two-day international conference "The Struggle against Illegal Drug Trafficking in the Great Silk Road Countries" which opened on 22 January in Baku. The first such conference took place in October 2002 in Tashkent. The meeting was organized by the Azerbaijan State Customs Committee with association with the World Customs Organization. According to Kemaleddin Heidarov, head of the Azerbaijan State Customs Committee, 60 percent of confiscated drugs are transported from Iran. There were also several cases of drug transit from Turkmenistan.

Central Asia has turned into an important transit zone for drug trafficking. Criminal groups continue their illegal activities utilizing the Balkan route and other drug channels.

World Customs Organization Secretary General Michel Dane noted that the discussions in Baku will help identify new transit zones and render more effective the struggle against illegal drug trafficking. The resolution adopted at the end of the conference envisages the strengthening of information exchange between customs institutions and an increase in technical and financial assistance.

(Babek Bekir) (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)