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Azerbaijan Report: September 13, 2002

13 September 2002
Journalists Protest Alleged Effort to Reinstate Censorship
The Azad soz (Free Word) Journalists' Union has announced that it will hold a demonstration in front of the Presidential Administration building next week to protest a presidential decree which they consider to be an attempt to restore censorship. The union is going to hold the protest on 16 September to demand cancellation of the decree "on preventing the spread of state secrets in the media."

Genimet Zahidov, the chairman of the union, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that there is no definition of "state secret" in Azerbaijani law and that the 28 August presidential decree further complicates the issue. He said the decree aims to restrict freedom of speech in Azerbaijan and therefore media representatives must resort to radical measures to protect their interests. The union has appealed to the Baku municipality for permission to hold the protest, Zahidov said. But irrespective of the response, the union is determined to hold the demonstration, he added.

The Yeni nesil (New Generation) Journalists' Union, for its part, intends to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the decree.

According to legal expert Fuad Agaev, who is representing Yeni nesil, the state secrets decree contradicts both the constitution and international agreements that the Azerbaijani government has signed. The union is waiting for the amendments to the constitution come into effect in order to appeal to the court. (Granting individuals the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court is among the changes to the constitution introduced by last month's referendum.)

Meanwhile, the editor in chief of the leading opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" says he is facing pressure following the publication of an article about a Nakhichevan customs' house. Aidin Guliev, the editor, claimed in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that contributors to his newspaper had received threatening phone calls because of an article alleging illegal activity at the Sedarak customs crossing point in Nakhichevan. Guliev added that the newspaper has appealed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the Ministry of National Security, and foreign embassies in Baku. (Maarif Chingizoglu)

President Issues Long-Awaited Media Loans Decree
On 5 September, President Heidar Aliyev signed a long-awaited decree granting loans to a number of newspapers, magazines, and news agencies. Under the decree, 3 billion manats (about $620,000) will be allocated from the state's Fund for Assistance to Entrepreneurs in order to develop independent media in Azerbaijan.

An agreement for making loans to the media was reached as far back as the beginning of 2002, at a meeting between the president and media representatives. But there have been heated arguments over aspects of the plan, including the amount of money on offer, which outlets would get the loans, and what they would put up as collateral.

Arif Aliev, the chairman of the Yeni Nesil Journalists' Union, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the amount of money indicated in the decree is not enough to allow the media to solve its problems. It would be better to direct funds toward the solution of a concrete media problem, Aliyev suggested.

Aliev's comments followed a separate dispute in the spring concerning which outlets would get the loans. The Ministry of Economic Development charged the Editors' Union with selecting 30 organizations. The union announced its list in April. Eflatun Amashov, the head of the Ruh Journalist Defense Committee, said the union chose the 30 outlets based on their circulation and their ability to affect public opinion.

Perhaps the most controversial element of the plan is the government's requirement that media outlets pledge the right to use their names as collateral. It is still unclear how the authorities will calculate the value of names.

President Aliyev instructed the Ministry of Economic Development to help mass media representatives prepare their business plans and to fulfill the requirements of the decree.

Though the presidential decree did not specify the term or interest rate of the loans, according to preliminary information the government is going to grant credit at an annual rate of 2 percent for a period of three to five years. Minister of Economic Development Farhad Aliyev and a group of media representatives are going to hold a meeting this week in order to discuss the tangled issues surrounding the loans. (Natig Zeinalli)

The opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," in an article titled "Lessons of 11 September," writes that the terrorist attacks were a powerful stimulus toward undermining dictators throughout the world.

Citing a joint statement from the Sheki offices of several opposition parties, the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that there could be a repeat of the kind of unrest against the executive authorities that occurred in Sheki in November 2000.

According to an article titled "People wait for the right decision from the opposition," in the independent newspaper "Tezadlar," there will be a great need for the unification of opposition parties in the presidential elections in 2003.

Meanwhile, the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that Pakistan is going to build a sugar refinery in Azerbaijan.

An author writing only as Garaxanli in the article "The OSCE Minsk Group has still not said its final word" in the official government newspaper "Azerbaycan" comments on the activities of the OSCE group working on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The author supports the criticism leveled against the group, above all because it has not been able to make progress in settling the conflict. The group has neither reached a just peace between the warring parties nor taken requisite measures to punish the invader. But it is fair to note that the Minsk Group has made several important steps towards settling the conflict, Garaxanli says, such as creating the requisite conditions for direct meetings between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents.

Zahid Seferoglu, in the article "Aliyev becoming the Armenians' savior," published in the opposition newspaper "Yeni musavat," accuses the Azerbaijani authorities of restoring relations with Armenia, which occupies 20 percent of Azerbaijan. Mutual contacts between the countries have been intensified. But, according to the author, neither mutual contacts nor agreements between the parties will solve the Karabakh problem because the parties pursue different aims in opening borders and lines of communication. Seferoglu claims that in order to remain in power the Azerbaijani leadership has decided to become a gambler in a game between the West, Russia, Iran, and Armenia. Entrusting the construction of the Azerbaijani part of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline to a company run by Armenians and Arabs -� as has been alleged in the Azerbaijani press -� is the indisputable proof of this assertion. The Azerbaijani authorities must be hoping that after such a move the West, and the United States in particular, will close their eyes to fraud during elections, the writer concludes.

An author writing only as Namig in the article "Successor plan and Armenian lobbies" in the newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that the scandal concerning the involvement of an allegedly Armenian-Arabian company in the BTC pipeline is connected to President Aliev's plan to have his son succeed him. Even Ramiz Mehdiev, the head of the president's Executive Office, downplayed reports about ties between the company and Armenians. According to Mehdiev, there are Armenians in companies throughout the whole world. Therefore, he said, there is no need to reject the agreement for the company, Consolidated Contractors Company International, to build the Azerbaijani section of the pipeline. Ilham Aliev, the president's son, is of the same opinion. There is no doubt that after such a gift from Baku, Namig writes, the Armenian lobbies will take steps to win U.S. consent for bringing Ilham Aliyev to power in Azerbaijan.

An author identified as Agaev in the newspaper "Azadlig" writes that the pro-government media has been promoting the notion that the Azerbaijani opposition works for unnamed "foreign forces." In an article titled "Working for foreigners," the author writes that the authorities even use this idea to try to demonstrate the "fairness" of the 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution. According to the authorities, the opposition gets assistance from the United States. But, Agaev argues, that fact itself means that Washington is betting on the opposition, rather than the authorities, to promote democratization �- a claim that the leadership rejects. (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)