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Azerbaijan Report: July 15, 2003

15 July 2003
List Of Political Prisoners Submitted To Ago Group
The human rights organizations' monitoring group has submitted to the Council of Europe's so-called Ago Group, led by Piero Ercole Ago, a list of political prisoners that includes 22 names. These people, who the Council of Europe considers to be political prisoners, have serious health problems, according to the group.

At a meeting with Ago Group members in Baku, heads of the organizations united under the monitoring group -- Novella Jafarova, Arzu Abdullaeva, Saida Gojamanli, Saadet Beneryarli, and Chingiz Ganizade -- said that the Council of Europe must attempt to get the release of these 22 people soon. Otherwise, their lives could be in danger.

Moreover, the local monitoring group prepared a new, updated list of 168 people it considers to be political prisoners. Previously this list included 200 names, but after the release of 30 of them by the president's 17 June pardon, the human rights organizations had to reconsider their list.

Human rights activist Ganizade pointed out that although the government had taken certain steps toward the release of political prisoners, the number of those arrested on political grounds continues to rise.

During the meeting with the Ago Group, the representatives of the local human rights institutions touched on the retrial of a number of political prisoners, condemning the court ruling against former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov and demanding his release.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Refugees Face Problems In Election Process
On 11 July, the Karabakh Freedom Organization (QAT) appealed to the Central Election Commission, claiming that government representatives are restricting refugees' voting rights. According to QAT Chairman Akif Nagi, observers and media representatives are refused entry to refugee camps without permission and police posts are placed at entrances and exits.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Nagi pointed out that one of the obstacles to refugees' participation in the presidential elections is the difference between the address where they are registered and where they in fact live. At present most refugees don't live in the camps where they are registered, but in the country's various regions, mainly in Baku. Because of financial difficulties refugees cannot come back and vote in the places where they are registered.

"At present most refugees have come to Baku in the hope of earning their living," Nagi said. "But most of them have been registered in refugee camps in various districts. Since their financial resources are limited, refugees cannot return to their camps to participate in elections. The Central Election Commission must create conditions for such citizens to vote."

Asef Aliev, a member of the Central Election Commission, acknowledged the problems and admitted that, as yet, the commission does not know how and where refugees will vote. "At present I am working on the problem. I hope that our directions will be adopted in the Central Election Commission before the elections."

(Natig Zeinalov)

Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) Monitoring Group, Andreas Gross and Martinez Casan, are on a visit to Azerbaijan.

Under the headline "Gross promises 'hot' September," the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" points out that PACE rapporteur Gross stated that the political-prisoner issue in Azerbaijan would be discussed at the PACE upcoming fall session. Gross and Casan are to submitted reports to the session on their current visit to Baku. The newspaper notes that the rapporteurs are going to meet with government officials, as well as representatives of nongovernmental organizations and opposition parties. On 14 July Gross and Casan conducted debates with the opposition's representatives at the OSCE Baku Office.

Newspapers focused on the upcoming presidential elections on 15 October.

Meherrem Zulfugarli in an article entitled "Presidential candidates who dally with their elections" in the pro-governmental newspaper "525" writes that one of the factors preventing democratic elections is the misuse of the election law. The campaign to register candidates and collect signatures in support of candidates is at its height. As in previous elections, it would be naive to suppose that all nominees would be registered with the Central Election Commission as some of them have no chance of winning even municipal elections let alone presidential or parliamentary ones. The author suggests that it is important for nominees to be respectful to themselves and voters and not to forget moral values. There are common criteria that cannot be ignored, although the law does not cover them. According to these criteria, a presidential candidate must be able to solve a country's numerous problems and have a professional command to manage these problems.

Namig in the article "Intergovernmental discords have entered an open level" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" notes that the existence of large rival groups within the YAP government is an irrefutable fact. In the past President Aliev, who is considered to be the government's unifying figure, could curb internal confrontations however deep. But now the situation has changed. Serious health problems have deprived the aged Aliyev of his management abilities. This factor pushes disputes between the groups toward open confrontation. Namig writes: "It is well known that some years ago when Aliev's health worsened, parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesgerov turned his back on the ruling family. Alesgerovs' current behavior gives grounds to predict that the speaker's closest supporters have special plans for the post-Aliyev period. It is said that one of the main organizers of a secret meeting of the government's "weighty figures" against Ilham Aliev, the president's son, was Fuad Alesgerov, the speaker's son." The author points out that as the intergovernmental struggles are becoming more open, the supporters of the president's son are little by little revealing their plans on newspaper pages. Namig concludes that discords between the rival intergovernmental groups are gradually becoming irreversible and confrontations are appearing on newspaper pages. This means that in losing President Aliyev the YAP loses not only its tested leader, but also its integrity.

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," a working group, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Khelef Khelefov, is visiting Tehran. The two-day visit will include bilateral negotiations on the Caspian legal status.

Azimli in the article "The Central Election Commission that does not express the people's interest must be dissolved" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that the Central Election Commission's activities have, from the beginning, showed that it is nothing but a branch of the YAP. Since the opposition agreed to the current composition of the commission, it has faced serious difficulties from the outset. What is pitiful is that the commission's members, who call themselves "neutral or independent," support the government even more than the YAP activists.

Rauf Aliyev in the article "Opposition activists attempt to create problems in the Central Election Commission's meetings" in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" points out that the radical opposition, which doesn't have a social base among the population, tries to artificially exaggerate some issue to derive political benefits. The opposition activists present themselves to the public as if they are ready to sacrifice themselves to solve the people's problems. The opposition representatives' senseless speeches at the Central Election Commission's last meetings prove this again. They frequently touch on the participation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the presidential elections. But their aim is clear: to improve their damaged reputations via such populist speeches and to present themselves as an opposition, which cares for refugees and IDPs.

Ramiz Genimetoglu in the article "Presidential candidates will not be able to use the Karabakh card" in the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" writes that the Karabakh problem has long been the main slogan of election campaigns and presidential elections in the country. And it remains unsolved. Of course, incumbent president Aliev, who came to power in 1993 at the urgent request of the then ruling People's Front, has not yet been able to solve the Karabakh problem. This problem has globalized and become the theme of discussions between international organizations. Genimetoglu writes that once governmental circles put the Karabakh issue on the agenda to deceive the people. Now presidential candidates are engaged in their own propaganda. "However, everybody knows and understands everything and so there is no need for this personal advertising."

In an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta," Mirsamed Jeferli, press secretary of the State Committee for Work with Azerbaijanis Abroad, spoke about the activities of the Azerbaijani diaspora in France. He said that the "Azerbaijan House" organization, created in Paris, has only a name. In other words, it has neither a concrete program nor an office. Despite the great number of Azerbaijanis living in Paris, they have no center. There are enough Azerbaijanis in France, who love Azerbaijan and want to act in accordance with its interests. Nevertheless, Jeferli pointed out that "our compatriots in Strasbourg do carry out some activities. For example, Azerbaijan's Cultural Relations Society, led by Mustafa Alyjanli, has organized pickets in front of the Council of Europe's office and held street rallies to commemorate the Khojaly massacre. But all these activities are the result of individual efforts as they themselves acknowledge."

Ilhame in the article "Sacrificed migrants" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that the number of women going abroad from Azerbaijan is constantly increasing. Most of these women aren't going to other countries on holiday or on business, but rather to work as prostitutes . Irrespective of whether these women go voluntarily or not, not all of them come back contented. Most of them are turned from housewives into "sacrifices." Ilhame cites the International Migration Organization's investigation, noting that women make up the majority of migrants leaving the country.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)