23 April 2002
Azerbaijan Acknowledges Human Rights Shortcomings, But Says It Is Making Improvements
Two major international organizations have joined the U.S. government in charging Azerbaijan with fundamental abuses of human rights.
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch recently expressed concern about Azerbaijan's detainment of political prisoners, its alleged torture of some detainees, and the harassment of critics of the government.
In an even more sweeping condemnation, the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report, released in early March, touched on many of these same issues and also accused Baku of restricting freedom of speech and of the press, denying religious freedom to "nontraditional" faiths, and "continuing to restrict citizens' ability to change their government peacefully."
The government of Azerbaijan admits there may be examples of human rights violations in the country, but says the reports do Azerbaijan an injustice by focusing only on criticism.
"They are not right if they don't want to include into this report some positive elements," said Fuad Ismailov, the head of the human rights department at the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry. "We cannot say that we have only black, [that] we [also] don't have some white. When we see that in reports they mention only some negative elements, negative aspects, we of course cannot agree with it. For us, it is very, very strange."
Ismailov says the establishment of human rights departments at the Azerbaijani Foreign and Justice ministries show the country is committed to improving its human rights record. He says Baku is eager to cooperate with bodies such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe, both of which have criticized Azerbaijan.
But he says such international bodies must understand the difficulties Azerbaijan faces, with its long history of Soviet domination and unresolved conflict with Armenia. "They should realize that such countries as Azerbaijan, we don't have experience building democratic societies, of living in democratic societies," Ismailov says.
However, Anna Sunder-Plassman of Amnesty International says the Azerbaijani government cannot simply explain abuses away. "I think that human rights organizations do acknowledge that Azerbaijan has many difficulties. There are economic problems and so on. But these problems should never be used as an excuse to violate fundamental human rights," Sunder-Plassman says.
She cites the case of Ilgar Djavadov, a 28-year-old man who died while in police custody in Baku in 2001. Amnesty International has been pushing for an investigation into Djavadov's case and does not accept that Azerbaijan's history is a good reason for not carrying out such a probe.
"His family certainly wants to find out the truth about the death in the police station of their son, and for them it is not understandable how the geopolitical situation of Azerbaijan should prevent the authorities from investigating their son's death," according to Sunder-Plassman.
Since the U.S. State Department issued its human rights report on 4 March, a court in Azerbaijan has ordered the closure of a Baptist church, the Church of Love, at the instigation of the government committee responsible for monitoring religious activity in the country.
During parliamentary by-elections on 12 April, international observers reported witnessing abuses such as ballot-stuffing and police harassment of local observers.
And the government deployed hundreds of riot police in March to prevent a group of opposition parties from holding a demonstration in Baku to demand the resignation of Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliev. There were reports of police beating demonstrators and detaining opposition activists in the days before the 23 March protest.
The government says holding the rally in a busy downtown square would have disrupted traffic. It reportedly offered to let the opposition congregate in a smaller square outside the city center instead.
Sunder-Plassman of Amnesty International says that explanation is not sufficient: "Certainly, no excessive force should be applied in any case. Even if it is an unsanctioned demonstration, the police should not resort to excessive violence. The other issue is that the authorities may use the tool of not sanctioning a demonstration in order to restrict the freedom of expression."
But while there have been human rights concerns in the past seven weeks, Aliyev also has pardoned or reduced the sentences of 89 prisoners, including many whom the Council of Europe considered to be political prisoners.
Eldar Zeynalov, director of the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, says the government often makes such gestures in response to international criticism. But he says the government is more reluctant to listen to domestic organizations making the same observations.
"They are dealing with this problem, but under the strong pressure from outside, not from inside," according to Zeynalov. "[Azerbaijani] officials are not ready to accept criticism from inside. They ignored the statements of opposition and local NGOs, but if the same allegations, the same statements, are repeated from Strasbourg [or] from Washington, the government reacts."
Ismailov of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the government is receptive to international criticism, but insists it must be constructive.
"If you have something to say about the situation in Azerbaijan, particularly in the field of human rights and democratization, so please, we are ready to listen to you and we are ready for cooperation -- but for constructive cooperation," Ismailov says. "We cannot accept such an approach that there can be only criticism for the sake of criticism."
(Richard Allen Greene)Opposition Women Stage Protest
Women of the United Opposition Movement staged a sanctioned protest on 20 April in front of the Galaba Cinema to demand Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's resignation. The women claimed that serious social problems in the republic, such as unemployment and poverty, caused them to protest. Women politicians and relatives of political prisoners as well as housewives took part in the protest. According to picketers, women other than the demonstrators attempted to sabotage the action in the beginning, but they failed. Artist Flora Kerimova, Azerbaijan Democrat Party member Zamina Dunyamalieva, Musavat Party member Maleyke Huseinli, and other party officials spoke at the event, referring to the serious social-economic difficulties in the country and stressing the urgency of demanding the government's resignation. Police officers tried to bring down some placards at the protest but could not, as the women prevented them.
Women politicians of opposition parties not represented in the United Opposition Movement, such as the Civic Unity Party, also took part in the protest. Azerbaijan's ex-President Ayaz Mutallibov spoke to the protest by telephone, saying that Azerbaijani women are determined to achieve their goals. The former president said women carry the majority of the responsibility in the current conditions of the republic. According to him, the Azerbaijani women have an irreplaceable role in restoring the republic's independence and educating future generations.
In conclusion, the protest adopted a resolution demanding President Aliev's resignation. The demonstrators asserted that he seized the power by falsifying presidential elections, violating the people's sovereignty, failing to represent the people as envisaged in Article 4 of the Azerbaijani Constitution, and not guaranteeing the power of the courts as per Item 4, Article 8 of the constitution. The resolution also alleges other breaches of law and irregularities in the republic as reasons for the president to resign.
(Almaz Mahmudgizi)Women Members Of Opposition Party Arrested In Baku
Former parliament members Zamina Dunyamalieva and Solmaz Alasgarova, members of the opposition Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP), were arrested on 22 April. They were taken to a police department in Baku's Narimanov district, questioned for three hours, and taken to the district court. The next day, ADP Secretary-General Serdar Jelaloglu said that the women had been tried the day of their arrest in a closed court and sentenced to six days in prison. Police claimed they interrupted the women quarrelling on the street, and that the two ADP members then abused them. At a press conference at party headquarters on 23 April, Jelaloglu alleged that the women were not allowed to meet with lawyers or party leaders. Jelaloglu argued that the entire incident is contradictory to Azerbaijani national values. According to him, the arrests were ordered by President Heidar Aliev. Jelaloglu stressed the fact that both the women left the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party in 1998 and joined this party.
Leila Yunus, the head of the nongovernmental Institute for Peace and Democracy, took part in the press conference, saying that the opposition itself must fight such cases as it is meaningless to appeal to the Council of Europe or other organizations.
The ADP staged on 23 April two actions to protest the arrest of its women members. Four members of the party were detained in the demonstration held in front of the Appeals Court. The other action was held in at Garasheher detention center where the women are being held.
(Maarif Chingizoglu)United Opposition Movement Prepares For Protest
The United Opposition Movement (UOM) met on 23 April to discuss preparations for a protest to be held on 27 April. According to Karabakh Liberation Organization head Akif Naghi, all the parties and organizations included in the movement have reiterated their commitment to staging the protest. They are determined to hold the action in Azadlig (Liberty) Square.
The meeting focused on the recent alleged political repression carried out by the government. Two women members of the opposition Azerbaijan Democratic Party were detained on 22 April. The next day, Husein Melikov, a member of the opposition Azerbaijan People's Front Party, was arrested in the morning at his home. According to APFP Deputy Chairman Zalimkhan Mammadli, members of APFP Kalbajar branch were also exposed to pressure. However, Mammadli says that the opposition is continuing to prepare for the protest. The UOM used the meeting to demand that Interior Minister Ramil Usubov cease what it called repression and stop the anarchy in the republic.
(Babek Bekir)AFFA President Accused Of Keeping Foreign Bank Accounts
Since 2000, there have been efforts to remove Fuad Musaev, president of the Azerbaijan Football Federations Association (AFFA) from his post. But world football's governing body FIFA intervened to keep him in his position, so opponents of AFFA established an alternative organization and nine clubs became members. Then FIFA sent an official to Azerbaijan to settle the dispute. FIFA refused to recognize the rival organization, which was dissolved.
But the Musaev controversy has recently reignited. The press has carried allegations that Musaev has accounts in foreign banks. But Musaev declares that he has neither information about these accounts nor the amount of money the newspapers claim. The press alleges that the money, in various accounts, totals $37 million. According to rumors, banks refused to accept the full amount for lack of information about the source where it was obtained. RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service does not intend to defend Fuad Musaev. But certainly, Fuad Musaev has certain responsibility for the current state of Azerbaijani football.
Some football clubs have refused to take part in the Azerbaijan football championship and demanded Musaev's resignation. According to Latif Novruzov, head of the AFFA press service, those clubs discredit themselves and the action will harm Azerbaijani football and football players. He says those football players will not receive salaries or bonuses for the period they did not work.
The 23 April issue of governmental newspapers "Khalg" and "Respublika" carry major articles devoted to the Days of Russian Culture, which started in Azerbaijan on 22 April.
A. Mehdiev in the article "Azerbaijan goes to the summit with a stable position" carried by the 23 April issue of the governmental newspaper "Azerbaijan" says that nothing extraordinary can be expected from the five-nation summit to resolve the status of the Caspian Sea. The author says that President Aliyev goes to Ashgabat to press Azerbaijan's long-held position that each country should get a share of the sea based on the length of its coast. This position is consistent with international legal norms and practice since the Caspian status issue arose and it has not changed despite various pressures. The author says that Baku could not have acted otherwise and that oil -- the essence of the Caspian problem -- is not just fuel for the Azerbaijani people and state but is also a vital concern.
Rustam Mammadov, an official in the presidential office, says in an interview in the 23 April issue of the independent newspaper "Zerkalo" that Azerbaijan will not compromise on the Caspian. According to him, Iran and Turkmenistan must compromise.
According to the 23 April issue of the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan," the Netherlands, through the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation, has allotted a grant to Azerbaijan to develop its securities market.
Orkhan Kerimov in a commentary entitled "World Trade Organization" carried by the 23 April issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" says that the government works to protect the domestic market on the one hand but hurries to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the other. According to the author, the WTO has the leading role in forming international economic relationships, determining the opportunities and perspectives of various countries, improving their prestige, and regulating 90 percent of world trade. The author claims that great tests are waiting for Azerbaijan and there are still hopes that the country will achieve something by being accepted to the WTO. Kerimov says that we should pay attention to the additional problems faced by WTO members Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Georgia. Presently, Azerbaijan gathers oil revenues on the one hand and prepares a poverty-reduction program with international donors. The author says that Azerbaijan declares that it is upgrading industry and the agrarian sector, but meanwhile hurries to join the WTO. The author argues that these two actions are contradictory -- what he calls illogical logic -- and that being accepted to the WTO now will only increase poverty.
According to the 23 April issue of the newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar has declared his support for AFFA President Fuad Musaev. He says that the Aliyev family is intervening in the issue and trying to bring football under its control at any cost. He says this action cannot be ignored by the Musavat Party.
Boyukagha Aghaev in a commentary "Fuad Musaev's heart" carried by the newspaper "Azadlyg" claims that AFFA President Musaev is under pressure. The author writes that very serious problems are waiting for AFFA and expresses doubts that Musaev will be able to withstand them. The author claims that the government wants to settle this problem by placing its own officials in AFFA, as he alleges they did with the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. If this plan is realized, he argues, then Musaev will have no other option than to join one of the Democratic Congresses or the United Opposition Movement. According to the author, Musaev is still struggling.
Orientalist Seyid Jamal Azimbeyli, head of the "Tebligh" (Propaganda) Islamic charity society, says in an interview with the newspaper "525" that there are few clergymen in Azerbaijan. But weakness of religion in Azerbaijan does not result from the small number of Islamic religious leaders in the country. According to Seyid Jamal, regretably, propaganda against the Azerbaijani state is conducted now in some mosques. Seyid Jamal added not only foreign missionaries engage in propaganda against the state. There are Azerbaijanis among them as well, he said.
Azad in an article "First women political prisoners" carried by the 23 April issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" alleges that the regime, which uses violence against male members of opposition parties and increases the number of political prisoners in the country, now shows the same attitude to women. Members of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party Political Council, former parliament members Solmaz Alasgarova and Zamina Dunyamalieva made "courageous" speeches at the 20 April protest and revealed the "true face of the government and the regime." But they were illegally detained on 22 April, the newspaper argues, and have been sentenced to six days in prison. According to the author, this action is not in compliance with any laws. He says the current regime opened a new page in the story of Azerbaijan's history of political prisoners; this page concerns women political prisoners.
A. Mammadli in an article entitled "Ilham Aliyev and sport" carried by the 23 April issue of the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" refers to the scandals in the world of Azerbaijan sports including football. He asks why the Alievs are credited with all good developments in the country. The author asks who is responsible for the problems that appeared during the Aliyev era. The author adds that presently, almost all media outlets from AzTV to the pro-governmental newspaper "Ses" (Voice) see Ilham Aliyev as the future president. According to the author, this propaganda in the pro-governmental press harms Ilham Aliyev more than it helps him. The author says that in April alone, AzTV aired 55 programs devoted to Ilham Aliev. Lider TV, Space TV and ANS TV aired 25 such programs altogether. Many newspapers carry propaganda in Ilham Aliev's favor, Mammadli says. The author suggests that whatever commission in the Presidential Office is distributing the relevant propaganda should press Ilham Aliyev to spend all his energy on winning the Karabakh conflict.
(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)