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Azerbaijan Report: June 14, 2004

14 June 2004
Azerbaijan Sends Protest To France
Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry sent on 9 June a note of protest to France over the visit of the leader of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

"Previously, the leadership of the separatist regime has made several visits to France and some other foreign countries as well. We are sure that the French authorities, as before, will proceed from Azerbaijan's standpoint and will not cooperate with the separatist entity," Foreign Ministry spokesman Metin Mirza said.

Tamerlan Garaev, head of the Karabakh House public association, said that all this cannot be viewed as strengthening work to prevent Nagorno-Karabakh to be unrecognized by the international community. Simply, the opposite side bends every effort in this direction and Azerbaijan's authorities are willy-nilly forced to react adequately to this.

Some time ago, the alleged activity of U.S. companies in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region, as well as the visit of foreign correspondents to Nagorno-Karabakh via Armenia without asking Baku's permission was met with strong discontent and anger in Azerbaijan.

(Babek Bekir)

Azerbaijan, Armenia Work On New Peace Plan
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has said Azerbaijani and Armenian negotiators are taking a new approach to settling their dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In an interview today with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Mammadyarov said Baku and Yerevan are working on a plan that will include elements from each side's previous proposals. "Azerbaijan stands for a step-by-step approach, and the Armenian side stands for a package approach. What we are right now working on is to try to pick up from each approach ideas that would be acceptable to both sides and put them into one basket," Mammadyarov said.

Mammadyarov was referring to Baku's insistence that ethnic Armenian troops withdraw from all Azerbaijani lands they have been occupying since the 1994 cease-fire agreement before negotiating the status of Karabakh. Yerevan wants both issues to be resolved simultaneously.

Mammadyarov did not elaborate on the negotiations, saying confidentiality is needed to ensure the good continuation of peace talks.

The Azerbaijani envoy is due to meet his Armenian counterpart Vardan Oskanian later this month in the Czech capital Prague.


Draft Law On State Secrets Causes Discord
The permanent Parliamentary Commission on Security and Defense has discussed a draft law on state secrets in the second reading. The document was recommended to be put to a plenary session of the parliament for adoption.

The parliamentary members and experts differ in their opinion about the document. The draft law draws an exact line between a secret kept by the government and information open to the public, commission member Zahid Oruj said. But another commission member, Alimammed Nuriev, on the contrary, suggested that the draft needlessly widens the concept of state secrets. Moreover, it entitles state institutions to independently decide what is a state secret, enabling officials to arbitrarily broaden the range of classified information.

The responsibility for protecting state secrets and classified information should rest with the government, not journalists, said Rashid Hajili, a lawyer of the Internews Institute of Media Rights, commenting on the clauses prohibiting the disclosure of state secrets in media. And this must be included in the document.

The state-secrets law was first adopted in 1996. However, in 2002 former President Heidar Aliyev issued a decree to develop a new one, as the first law does not meet present-day demands.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Government Examines New Political-Prisoner List
Murad Sadeddinov of the Foundation of Democracy and Human Rights Development said a new list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan was submitted to the Council of Europe during its winter session. It contains the names of 88 persons arrested since 2000 who were not included in the previous lists. "Some of them have been already released by the last two pardon decrees," Sadeddinov added.

"The list includes the names of such persons that have already been released or have never been in custody at all. This is a very unfounded list," said Ali Huseinov, a member of Azerbaijan's parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The head of the law enforcement department within the presidential administration, Fuad Alesgerov, agreed with the existence of controversial points in the list, adding that this requires a separate examination.

Sadeddinov pointed out that pardons do not remove the reason for the list. The problem will not be solved completely until free and fair elections, as well as independent courts are ensured in the country.

Huseinov, however, referred to reforms in the judiciary and legal system, saying that Azerbaijan's citizens are already entitled to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights against local courts' decisions.

But independent lawyer Muzaffar Bakhishov said that the problem cannot be solved by only the European Court for Human Rights. At least because it is not in a position to consider all appeals filed by Azerbaijanis. In addition, this requires a long time and some stages to go through. The solution to the problem is in the country itself. Simply, the government should display willingness and society the activity.

(Babek Bekir)

International Helsinki Federation: Courts Dependent On Executive Branch
In 2003, "the courts demonstrated dependence on the executive branch, especially in politically sensitive cases," according to an annual report recently released by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights on the situation with human rights in OSCE countries.

"For example, at around the time of the presidential election, some opposition party members were refused registration and the decisions were confirmed by courts on no valid basis. Physical conditions in prisons remained harsh. There were numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment in connection with politically motivated arrests."

The report says that "the flawed presidential election of 15 October caused serious political destabilization in the country. The election was officially won by Heidar Aliyev's son, Ilham Aliyev, and was accompanied by numerous irregularities that provoked massive demonstrations in Baku on 16 October 2003. Consequently, hundreds of members of the opposition parties were arrested and at the end of 2003, at least 120 of them were still being detained under criminal charges related to this event. The election and the events surrounding it infringed upon basic human rights and civil liberties. Opposition parties and the independent media were under the strongest pressure since 1998. Despite recommendations from the Council of Europe, public radio and television were not independent from the government and that was especially visible during the election campaign. Freedom of peaceful assembly and association were often violated. Public events organized by the opposition were dispersed and demonstrators were arrested and fined. In April-May and in September-October, human rights defenders were targeted in the media and some were even physically attacked."

(Arifa Kazimova)

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)