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Azerbaijan Report: February 3, 2004

3 February 2004
PACE Demands that Azerbaijani Authorities Adhere to Democratic Norms, Release Political Prisoners
The progress Azerbaijan has made towards honoring its obligations and commitments is far from satisfactory, according to resolutions adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 27 January. The resolution on "Functioning of Democratic Institutions" says that "the Assembly recognizes that Azerbaijan has achieved certain progress towards honoring obligations and commitments since the last monitoring report in September 2002. However, it considers that this progress is far from satisfactory, particularly with regard to implementation of new laws."

Regarding the 15 October presidential elections, the Council of Europe has found that "the first election since accession of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe again failed to meet generally accepted international standards in several aspects. The wave of arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters and election officials and observers, as well as politically motivated dismissals that were reported in the post election period seem to continue." Considering all this, the Assembly urges the Azeri authorities to establish an inquiry commission with the assistance of Council of Europe to investigate the alleged election shortcomings and human rights violations that took place during and after the elections.

The resolution on "Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan" formally calls on the Azerbaijani government to release immediately political prisoners whose state of health is critical, and to speedily bring to trial those arrested since the post-election events.

The Assembly decided to continue the current monitoring procedure until Baku makes essential progress on the outstanding issues, notably in holding free and fair elections, and fulfils its commitments regarding a peaceful settlement of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the Assembly warned that it might repeal the credentials of the Azeri delegation to the Council of Europe, if no progress is observed by June 2004.

Meantime, according to local opposition parties, by giving additional time, the Council of Europe has dealt leniently with the Azeri authorities. In an interview with RFE/RL, Musavat party Chairman Isa Gambar pointed out that the adopted resolutions exactly and impartially describe the current situation. But providing additional time is not sufficient for the Azeri leadership to draw appropriate conclusions.

According to Ali Kerimli, head of the People's Front Party (AXCP), these resolutions have demolished the allegations made by Azeri officials that all commitments have been fulfilled. If the PACE has again given additional time, this means that some commitments have yet to be met.

Parliament deputy Mubariz Gurbanli, who is also a deputy executive chairman of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), does not see perilous points in the PACE decisions. However, Gurbanli accused his European counterparts of subjectivity and of exaggerating the number of commitments not complied with, adding that the Azeri leadership will implement those obligations which do not conflict with the country's national interests.

Human rights activists also watched closely the results of the discussions held at the Council of Europe. "Giving additional time to Azerbaijan to fulfill its obligations is motivated by the PACE desire to give President Ilham Aliyev an opportunity to demonstrate his political willingness and resolve problems," said Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, in an interview with Turan news agency. "The adoption of resolutions criticizing Azerbaijan was not surprising, as the contents of these documents reflect the real situation in Azerbaijan," Yunus concluded.

(Abbas Javadi, Natig Zeinalov and Etibar Rasulov)

Lawyers Are Dissatisfied With The Course Of Trial
A group of seven persons appeared before the court on 30 January on charges of involvement in the 15-16 October mass riots in the capital Baku and of using violence against police officers. If convicted, these persons will be punished by imprisonment from four to seven years.

The lawyers of defendants claim that the trial is not proceeding impartially and fairly. According to them, the court mainly prefers to interrogate those victims who will testify in favor of the authorities. During the trial, lawyer Mirismail Hadi petitioned for all victims to be required to testify before the court. He claimed the only victims of the disorders to testify are police officers. Their testimonies might produce the impression that only the participants of the protest are guilty of the clashes. But there are also victims who accuse the police and persons in black clothes of excessive violence. And by listening to their testimonies the court would get an unbiased and clear idea of the events. His petition was denied.

The lawyers also agree with the Human Rights Watch conclusion that detainees arrested on suspicion of post-election violence are subjected to physical abuse and torture. According to lawyer Yaver Husein, his client Sharif Hasanov is still undergoing treatment for physical injuries he has received at the Ministry of Interior�s Organized Crime Unit. "In the weeks following the election, the Azeri authorities used the post-election violence as a pretext for a massive crackdown on the opposition," Human Rights Watch says in a report released on 23 January. "Police arrested close to 1,000 people, including national leaders of the opposition, local opposition party members, activists from nongovernmental organizations, journalists, and election officials and observers who challenged the fraud. Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of police torture�through severe beatings, electric shocks, and threats of male rape against opposition leaders, particularly by the Organized Crime Unit of the Ministry of Interior." However, Farhad Suleimanov of the Organized Crime Unite denied the allegations regarding using torture against detainees.

(Kebiran Dilaverli, Babek Bekir and Etibar Rasulov)

Experts Experience Difficulty in Assessing the First 100 Days of Ilham Aliyev's Presidency
Speaking about the first 100 days of Ilham Aliyev's presidency some experts focus on the fact that 40 days of this period passed in mourning. During those days, Ilham Aliyev mostly received condolences on the death of his father, former President Heidar Aliyev. But others urge that even the remaining 60 days is sufficient to assess Ilham Aliyev�s economic and political course.

Economiist Nazim Imanov noted that during the election campaign Ilham Aliyev mainly pledged 100,000 new workplaces, overall economic development and progress towards a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Imanov said that in fact the problems are identified correctly, but all this does not yet signify system change. No changes have taken place in governing the country and regulating the economy. Azerbaijani society as well as certain political groups expect significant personnel changes from Ilham Aliev. This is natural, as it would be naive to expect progress while cetain figures remain in the leadership.

Expert Zafar Guliev of Turan news agency regrets that although the first 100 days are over, uncertainty remains. Guliev assessed this period as "standstill," as there is still no indication of new forces coming to power. But Guliev does not rule out the possibility of some revival in the next few months. Anyhow, after the resolutions adopted by the Council of Europe the government will have to take certain steps.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi) (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)