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Azerbaijan Report: October 5, 2001

5 October 2001
Azerbaijani Journalists Held Strike
Some 30 mass media outlets demonstrated solidarity with the jailed journalists and held one hour-warning strike from 1100 -- 1200 on 5 October. The Editors' Union decided that the newspapers participating in the strike should cover developments that took place in the country during that hour by one sentence news and leave the remaining space empty. The Editors' Union will also stage a meeting on 10 October to demand an end to the pressure on the press.

The striking journalists gathered in the hall of the newspaper "Azadlig" and pointed out the need for demonstrating more solidarity in the face of the government's attacks on the press. Aflatun Amashov, Head of the Committee for Protection of Journalists' Human Rights (RUH), stated that although the pressure on journalists has increased recently, it has become more complicated to organize their protection. According to Amashov, before, on average some 2-3 media organs were shut down in Azerbaijan every year, criminal proceedings were instituted against 7-8 journalists and journalists were arrested in rare cases. But since this July, criminal proceedings have been instituted against 10 journalists, 5 newspapers and 1 independent TV channel have been shut down, 6 journalists are in jail, and 3 journalists received suspended sentences.

Azer Hesret, Chairman of Journalists' Trade Unions, said that if Azerbaijani officials still ignore the warning strike and the upcoming meeting of journalists, the Editors' Union will have to begin more effective actions of protest.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Journalists Stage Actions Of Protest Against Pressure On Them
Azerbaijan's mass media organs, except for the official ones, staged a warning strike from 1100 --1200 on 5 October. Journalists did not take part in any events for one hour. The Committee for Protection of Journalists' Rights held a meeting on 4 October at which Sabir Rustamkhanly, Chairman of the Civil Solidarity Party, stated that a barrier has appeared between the government and society in Azerbaijan. Recalling the shutting down of Sara and ABA TV, Rustamkhanli said that it is not right now to demand that Azerbaijani courts consider the issue objectively. According to Rustamkhanli, the courts carry out the tasks they are given, and an article that displeases government officials can lead to the shutting down of that newspaper.

Leyla Yunus, Head of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, said that they have already informed foreign embassies and international organizations in Azerbaijan of the incidents. The committee head noted that an Internet page containing information about pressure on journalists has also opened.

Other speakers included Chairman of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party Supreme Council Nureddin Mammadli, Head of the "Yeni Nasil" ("New Generation") Journalists' Union Arif Aliev, poet Vagif Bayatli Oner, lawyer Isakhan Ashurov, Chairman of Journalists' Trade Unions Azer Hesret, and Chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party Etibar Mammadov, who all referred to the details of the pressure on journalists in Azerbaijan and the actions of protest they plan to stage.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Azerbaijani Journalist Taken To Court
Last month the republican prosecutor's officially warned Elchin Shikhlinskii, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Zerkalo" and Sebuhi Nesibli, an employee of that newspaper. But now, the newspaper "Zerkalo" has been taken to court. Rauf Mirgadirov, an employee of the newspaper has been taken to court by John Long, a businessman from Singapore, for an article carried by the newspaper last May. For some reason, some months after the article was published, the foreign businessman understood that Mirgadirov had insulted his dignity and honor. But Mirgadirov thinks that the businessman was persuaded to bring charges against him as part of the pressure campaign on journalists in Azerbaijan. Mirgadirov must pay an indemnity of 150 million manats (approximately $30.000).

Mirgadirov says his articles do not insult the dignity and honor of the plaintiff. Mirgadirov says he simply reported the ruling of the court in a dispute between the Singaporean businessman and Azerbaijani citizen Akif Hasanov, and it is ridiculous to claim that the ruling includes any insult, as it is an official document. Ramiz Zeynalov, Rauf Mirgadirov's lawyer, says that the first sitting of the court will be held on 24 October.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

First Session Of All-Russia Azerbaijanis' Congress Held In Moscow
On October 4, the first session of the All-Russia Azerbaijanis' Congress was held in Moscow. Some people anticipated that the problems of the Azerbaijani Diaspora living in Russia would be discussed in the session because over 2.2 million Azerbaijanis currently live in Russia, in 89 cities. In 2001 alone, some 500.000 Azerbaijanis moved to Russia to find a job and feed their families.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijan service was told by Zahid Gojayev, President of the Congress of National Minorities working in Russia, that not all the Azerbaijani communities were represented in the session held on 4 October in Moscow. The participants in the session were mainly Azerbaijanis living in Russia who support the interests of the Azerbaijani government. In other words, official Baku intends to use the event to create a loyal Azerbaijani Diaspora in Russia, but in fact it may result in the fragmentation of the Azerbaijani community in Russia.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

Russia Reinforces The Gabala Radio Location Station
Due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the Russian Defence Ministry has taken additional measures to intensify the security of the Gabala Radiolocation System and the Nurek fibre-optic cable in Tajikistan. Colonel General Anatolii Perminov, Commander of the Russian Space Forces, stated that the strengthening of security at those facilities is connected with possible terrorist acts against them. Perminov noted that a governmental commission for determining the status of Gabala RLS is currently working in Baku and a final decision on the status of the RLS will be taken within the next one-two months. According to some sources, since the 11 September terrorist acts, the Gabala RLS has passed to a high-rate working regime. Experts say that there is a real need to intensify the security measures at Gabala.

Sulhaddin Akbar, Deputy Head of the Musavat Party for Security Issues, thinks there is potential danger for sabotage at Gabala RLS. But according to Azerbaijan's former Minister of Defence Tajeddin Mehdiyev, it is normal for Russia to intensify its security forces and even it can bring the army to combat readiness. Mehdiyev thinks that there is no danger for Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan's First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov has stated that there is no need to dramatise and exaggerate the issue. But Azerbaijan's experts for ecology claim that the station brings great damage to the environment. According to the information of the National Centre of Ecological Forecasting, one of every ten newly born babies dies. The electromagnetic waves emitted by Gabala RLS cause serious damage to the environment. Some diseases are widespread on the surrounding territory and the birthrate is very low.

(Almaz Nasibova)

According to the newspaper "Azadlig," Azerbaijanis living in Turkmenistan are being deported from that country. The newspaper reports that dozens of people are put on ferries and sent back to Azerbaijan. The ferries reportedly take several days to reach Azerbaijani ports. Matin Mirza, head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press-service, said the expulsions may be connected with the visa regime, and the deportation of the people who illegally arrived in another country should not cause surprise. Mirza said if there is another reason for the deportations, Azerbaijan will express its position on the issue.

Raul Motyka, an expert on Islam at the Department of Near Eastern history at Heidelberg University, in an interview with the newspaper "Azadlig," rejected rumours about the Christian-Moslem confrontation after the terrorist acts in the U.S., noting that he does not see any confrontation because there is no de facto Christian world. Referring to the Karabakh conflict, the German Islam researcher said that all countries accept Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and nobody says that Karabakh is an Armenian land. Motyka said that Azerbaijan itself must settle the problem and Europe can only help it to this end.

Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party Chairman Fezail Aghamali in an interview with the newspaper "Nedelya" commented on the U.S. Congress discussions regarding the pressure on Azerbaijani journalists. According to Aghamali, if the Azerbaijani journalists appealed to Moscow before, now they appeal to international organisations, the White House and other structures. Aghamali expressed his disapproval of that fact, noting that he also does not approve of journalists being arrested for the articles they write. Aghamali advised journalists to work responsibly, warning that insulting people is unacceptable.

The newspaper "Nedelya" also reports that at the initiative of the OSCE Baku office, a group of Azerbaijani journalists will visit Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia from 7 -11 October. They will meet with the president, parliament speaker, prime minister and foreign minister in Armenia, and with the separatist leaders in Nagorno Karabakh.

Bakhtiyar Tunjay, in a commentary entitled "Armenians continue a policy of terror" carried by the newspaper "525," writes that the tension in the Zagatala- Balaken district still persists. He says Russia's name is more frequently mentioned as the country which is behind the incidents in the Zagatala-Balaken zone, and it is natural. Tunjay claims that Russia's participation in numerous acts of sabotage against Azerbaijan is not a secret to anybody, but it is not also convincing that Russian intelligence bodies are directly behind the issue. The author notes that Russia is interested in preserving stability to ensure the security of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline and because Russia's LUKoil wants to participate in the Baku-Ceyhan project. Tunjay writes that Armenian intelligence bodies are behind these terrorist acts. He claims that the Armenian intelligence service has enough experience of work with the local people in northern Azerbaijan and the recent terrorist acts in this zone prove that.

Musavat Party head Isa Gambar in an interview with the newspaper "Ekho" characterizes as satisfactory official Baku's reaction to the terrorist acts in the U.S. Gambar stressed that is it urgent that Azerbaijan should participate in the anti-terror coalition. He said Azerbaijan, which has been subjected to terrorism, can attract the world community's attention. In response to the question whether Armenian terrorist organisations have any links with the terrorist acts in the U.S., Isa Gambar said that no concrete evidence has been disclosed in this connection. But we must take into consideration that the terrorist organisations are closely connected with each other and Armenian terrorist organisations closely cooperate with other terrorist organisations, he added. Therefore the participation of Armenian terrorist organisations in the terrorist acts in the U.S. cannot be ruled out, Gambar concluded.

Elbrus writes in the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" that the state bodies have stated more than once that some tourism companies in the republic are engaged in "women business" (trafficking in women). Although the licenses of the majority of those firms have expired, the companies continue their illegal activity. The author recalls that the Ministry for Youth, Sports and Tourism declared some months ago that trading in women has become the key activity for some tourism companies.

Vusal Gasimli in a commentary on privatisation checks in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that the number of Azerbaijani citizens who still have such checks is 2.5 million. If the government does not extend the validity of the checks by later this year, then 2.5 million Azerbaijanis will lose their share of the state property formed over the past 70 years. According to Gasimli, people's rights to privatisation have not been violated so brutally in any other post-socialist country as in Azerbaijan. Gasimli writes that Azerbaijan has no analogue in the negative sense of the word for the rate of checks' utilisation and their market price. The author concludes that although the government wants to speed up privatisation, it will not be able to ensure effective utilisation for the checks. The government has no real interest in doing so. The government circles responsible for privatisation want the checks to be excluded from circulation.

Tariel Hasanov writes in the newspaper "168 saat" (168 hours) that the firm "AMAY," which is close to the government, is being destroyed. According to the author, Jalal Aliev, the brother of Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev, used to be identified as the patron of AMAY, but opinions have recently changed. According to the author, as the owners of property in Azerbaijan are not known, it is difficult to determine the real owners of AMAY. Hasanov concludes that it is a reflection of the government's fear that a certain group may become rich and of the objective law of business in Azerbaijan that only the government and groups close to certain government factions can develop their business interests and make money.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)