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Azerbaijan Report: February 1, 2003

1 February 2003
PACE Creates Subcommittee to Investigate Political Prisoners Issue
The Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has created a subcommittee for monitoring Azerbaijan for its fulfillment of the resolution it signed on political prisoners.

Gulamhusein Alibeili, a member of the Azerbaijani delegation at the PACE, said in an interview with the media that co-rapporteurs of the PACE monitoring group on Azerbaijan, Andreas Gross and Martinez Casan have been also involved in the subcommittee. The new organization intends to see that moves are made toward an investigation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

Under local human rights groups' reports submitted to the PACE, the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan ranges from 200 to 700. But the Azerbaijani delegation at the PACE, including the delegation's leader Ilham Aliev, has repeatedly stated that there were no political prisoners in the country. The Azerbaijani legislature has no provision for the arrest or prosecution of for their political views. However, local human rights organizations have their own opinion in the matter and insist that there are political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile human rights activists acknowledge that some of those they call political prisoners may have committed crimes. There are components of crime in the acts they committed. Their main argument is that these men were not punished when their relatives were in power and this gives ground to consider their present imprisonment to be political motivated.

Human rights activist Saida Gojamanli notes that the newly- created subcommittee will once again make clear whether Azerbaijani government fulfills its obligations undertaken before the Council of Europe when Azerbaijan joined the organization. She said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that Azerbaijan has not to date met its commitments on human rights and political prisoners and naturally the PACE cannot ignore this fact. Political prisoners are a sensitive issue which could damage Azerbaijan's image at the PACE and around the world, she said.

At the end Gojamanli pointed out that in 2002 the Azerbaijani president issued three pardons. Thirty of those prisoners who benefitted had been sentenced on political charges.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Local Rights Group Releases Report on Torture for 2002
It is still possible to come across incidents on torture in Azerbaijan, a member state of the Council of Europe, according to the 2002 report by the Azerbaijani Center against Torture (CAT).

Elchin Behbudov, chairman of CAT, said in an interview with RFE/RL�s Azerbaijani service that the center intends to send the report to the UN and Council of Europe�s committees against torture. "In all, 80 incidents of torture were observed in 2002," Behbudov noted. Behbudov said that the center has gathered these facts from victims of torture and their family members.

"Various methods are used," he said. A 6 January incident at the headquarters of the Baku Police Department proves once again the kind of work of local law-enforcement bodies. On that day a man named Veten Rejebov threw himself from the second floor of the building and died. "If you look at recent history, it is possible to come across a number of such facts related to the Headquarters of the Police Department." Behbudov also added that while preparing the report the center did not only consult statistics, but that also questioned victims of torture.

But Ehsan Zahidov, head of the Internal Affairs Ministry's press service, told RFE/RL that the facts in the report have been exaggerated. He noted that both local and international human rights groups have repeatedly visited prisons and have been acquainted with the situation on the spot. But unlike CAT, these organizations have thus far not raised such claims, Zahidov concluded.

(Babek Bekir)

Negotiations Begin Over Law on Grants Changes
The National Non-governmental Organizations Forum has prepared and submitted several proposals to the Presidential Administration in order to reverse the amendments to the Law on Grants.

The changes to the law establish a new procedure of registering approved grant projects and require local NGOs to pay 27 percent of the project's wage funds into the Social Protection Fund (SPF), while individual employees must pay 2 percent of their salaries into a pension fund. But the forum suggests either resuming NGOs' tax abatements or postponing the amendments till 2005. Even in this case, NGOs have proposed that SPF contributions be lowered to 4 percent.

Azai Guliev, the forum's president, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that last week he met with Vahid Akhundov, the president's economic adviser and the author of the amendments. Akhundov suggested he also discuss the issue with the leadership of the SPF and Tax Ministry. Akhundov said that he would then inform the president about the outcome of the discussions.

Guliev, who afterward met with the SPF officials, noted that the government seemed to be inclined to reverse the amendments. Guliev stated that if the negotiations with the government fail to yield the desired solution, NGOs will resort to other methods of struggle, including protest actions. He also said that foreign embassies in Azerbaijan and international donor organizations and funds have prepared a common appeal to the president, expressing their concern about the changes to the Law on Grants.

(Natig Zeinalli)

On 8 January a soldier of the Azerbaijani Army, Elmeddin Abiev, was taken prisoner by Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijani newspapers gave wide coverage to this event.

Under the headline "An Azerbaijani prisoner of war has given an interview to an Armenian separatist newspaper," the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" points out that Armenians want to use Elmeddin Abiev to stage an anti-Azerbaijani provocation.

Parliament deputy Ali Ahmedov, who is an executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), answered questions of the independent newspaper "525." Ahmedov said that the YAP intents to apply new election technologies in the upcoming fall presidential ballot.

The government newspapers "Khalg" and "Azerbaycan" gave detailed information about the president's participation in the Kyiv summit of CIS presidents.

Elkhan Gudretoglu in an article entitled "Azerbaijani soldier from Cleveland" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that Elmeddin Abiev probably has no idea how popular he has become in Azerbaijan. Even the All Armenian Catholicos Garegin II has been addressed in connection with the fate of Abiev. Gudretoglu notes that the president, who does not acknowledge some members of parliament, recognizes Abiev and makes statements on his fate. This cannot be considered a "normal event." President Aliyev told local media after his return from the CIS Kiyv summit that during the visit he met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, and Kocharian assured him that Abiev would be released after medical treatment. There is nothing surprising in that, Gudretoglu writes. "If the Supreme Commander-in-Chief can permit himself to receive treatment in Cleveland, a poor man's son, Abiev, also has right to 'rest' near Khankendi." The question is that most Azerbaijani soldiers at the front are in need of medical treatment not for bullet wounds, but for various diseases.

Ali Kerimli, chairman of the "reformist faction" of the People's Front Party, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" that the incumbent "undemocratic and illegal" government wants to benefit from false patriotic slogans in order to isolate Azerbaijan from democratic process in the world. Kerimli noted that most of those who pose as protectors of Azerbaijan's independence did not contribute anything to gaining that independence. Kerimli said that the opposition, which has contributed to independence of Azerbaijan, cannot allow international organizations to inflict even minimal harm on Azerbaijan�s sovereignty. "The point is that we cooperate with those international institutions that are striving to making Azerbaijan a democratic state, as well as strengthening its independence," Kerimli concluded.

An author writing only as Ismailova in the article "The opposition plays old games around the draft law on elections" in the newspaper "Azerbaycan" points out that at present the opposition has directed all its efforts to the discussion of the draft law. Opposition leaders are, in fact, indifferent to the draft law and how presidential elections will be held. Political organizations which have taken a non-constructive stance on the OSCE-sponsored round-table discussions are interested only in ensuring equal participation in election commissions. Opposition parties of other countries never resort to such "games" during discussions of draft laws outside parliaments.

An author writing only as Farid in an article entitled "The Game of candidate in the AQB" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nokta" notes that the AQB, the Azerbaijani Forces Union that is preparing for the presidential elections cannot come to an agreement on a candidate. The reason is that there is a split between the Vehdet, Social-Democratic (ASDP) and Islamic parties which are united within the organization. Farid writes that at time of its creation, the AQB differed from other political organizations because of its attachment to Ayaz Mutallibov, former Azerbaijan�s president. But the further development of events indicated that the AQB is an organization created for personal interests. This explains the failure of these parties to come to a common candidate for president. Not long ago Islamic activists expressed their intention to nominate their own candidate for president. As for Tahir Kerimli, Vehdet's chairman, he has long devoted himself to Mutallibov, and as a result put himself out of the running. The statement of Araz Alizade, co-chairman of the ASDP, that he wwill run for president doesn't seem serious. Most of all because the likelihood that he will be elected is minimal. So, the problem of a candidate within the AQB is still at its most fundamental level. It is possible that the tension will increase on the eve of the elections.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)