3 September 2002
Presidential Decree Elicits Journalists' Concern
On 24 August President Aliyev approved a provision to the Law on State Secrets. The provision, "On preventing the spread of state secrets in the media," makes editors and journalists of local mass media accountable for disseminating state secrets.
Under Article 7, if it is unclear whether information is classified as a state secret, editors must appeal to the Interdepartmental Commission for the Protection of State Secrets. If the commission rules that the information is a state secret, editors must not allow it to be made public. The commission has seven days to issue a ruling.
Under article 10, in cases when the commission rules the information a state secret, it has the right to demand that the editor provide the name of the source of the information. Should the information be provided by a document, the commission also has the right to demand forfeiture of the original document.
Should a media outlet publish or air a state secret, the commission can then appeal to the court to demand that the source be revealed. According to the last article of the provision, editors and journalists are also accountable for spread of state secrets.
Media representatives have called the provision a new step against freedom of speech and the press in Azerbaijan. Journalists' Trade Union chairman Azer Hasret in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service said that the authorities' decision was unexpected and a further step toward restoring Soviet-era censorship. The authorities are attempting to put the media under their supervision, he said.
Aidin Guliev, editor of the leading opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," says that there are a lot of conflicting points in the provision. The authorities can prevent the publication of anti-government articles by saying they contain state secrets, he said.
But Arif Aliev, the chairman of the New Generation Journalists' Union, said that there will be amendments to the provision in 2003, in order to comply with demands of the Council of Europe. He expressed the hope that during that amendment process, the opinion of the Council of Europe's experts and local media representatives will be taken into account. Otherwise the provision will put the media into unavoidable danger.
According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho," Samuel Wims, an American historian and author of the book, "Armenia: The Big Lie, Enigma of a Christian-Terrorist State," who was visiting Baku, said that Azerbaijan has no friend in the OSCE Minsk Group.
Mubariz Ahmedoglu, the head of the Center for Political Innovations and Technologies in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Khalg" said that the 24 August referendum on the amendments to the Constitution was conducted in an appropriate manner. He said that elections in Azerbaijan are more democratic, freer and fairer than in Armenia.
The independent newspaper "525" on 2 August reported on a meeting between Azeri and Iranian businessmen. During the meeting the Iranian delegation presented a book, one chapter of which was of great interest. Before 2000 Tehran had figured the number of ethnic Azeris in Iran at no more than 7 million-8 million. But the book notes that the number of Azeri-Iranians to be about 20 million. Non-governmental organizations dealing with South Azerbaijan-�a northern province of Iran--consider that figure to be underestimated. They say the number of ethnic Azeris in Iran is closer to 30 million-32 million.
That figure amounts to half of the population of Iran. The newspaper adds that even the percentage put forth in the book--29 percent--indicates that Tehran is no longer able to hide the truth.
Azer Hasret, in an article entitled "24 August indicates the real strength of Aliev" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," alleges that Azeri people did not participate in the referendum and thus said "no" to the present leadership. According to him, in democratic states governments would tender their resignations after such a shameful defeat. But it is difficult to expect a similar step from President Aliev. Hasret writes that the referendum showed once again that it was impossible to force the citizens to vote. Those who charged the population with indifference to the authorities made a mistake. People are not going to bow down before the regime. At present even teachers, doctors and policemen, who were the first to agree to become slaves of the regime, expressed their discontent about the present situation.
Eflatun Guliev in the article "Aliev's falsification" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that Aliyev has been at the head of the state for about 24 years. According to the author, the first stages of falsification could be seen in the late 1970s-early 1980s, when the president was first secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan. Then all economic spheres--industries and agriculture--would provide false economic figures to Moscow. After returning to power in 1993, Aliyev continues to present false economic figures. However, unlike in Soviet times, at present the number of citizens is also being falsified, as the number of Azeri residents who have left their motherland because of difficult living conditions or who have died, have been listed as voting during the 24 August referendum.
Liberal Party leader Lale Shovket Hajieva in an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni zaman" noted that it was foolhardy to wish eternal cohesion in the opposition camp. Opposition parties differ from each other in their intellectual potential and world outlook. The opposition cannot be united, and the slogan "the opposition must be united" cannot be considered to be right. However, that does not mean that opposition parties should not come together in extreme situations.