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Azerbaijan Report: April 8, 2003

8 April 2003
U.S. Human Rights Report Meets With Mixed Reactions
Local human rights activists have reacted positively to the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report on Azerbaijan for 2002. Saida Gojamanli, head of the Bureau for Human Rights and Protection of Law, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the report reflects details of the current situation in Azerbaijan. Unlike the previous reports, this year's better indicates Washington's more critical position on the situation in Azerbaijan and the intention that it will no longer remain passive about human rights violations. Gojamanli noted that international organizations' reports, as well as that of the U.S. State Department, promote the year-by-year improvement overall of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan.

"The situation with human rights in Azerbaijan improved radically only after Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe. But both European organizations' and the State Department's reports do not remain ineffectual," Gojamanli said.

Touching on the fact that the report recognizes Armenia's occupation of Azerbaijani territories, including Nagorno-Karabakh, Gojamanli said that this fact could promote the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the future.

Parliament deputy Mubariz Gurbanli, deputy executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), considered the comments regarding the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh as pressure on Armenia. Meantime, Gurbanli refuted critical remarks toward the Azerbaijani government regarding the human rights situation. "The United States' and Azerbaijan's opinions on democracy can be different. I think that the report does not reflect the real situation in Azerbaijan," Gurbanli said.

But Rauf Mirgedirov, commentator of the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," expressed doubt that the State Department's report will change anything in Azerbaijan. Mirgedirov recalled that the seizure of Azerbaijani lands was mentioned in last year's report as well. Similarly, the Azerbaijani government was criticized for human rights violations. "I think that until the Iraq problem is solved fully, the situation with human rights will not a priority for the United States' foreign policy," he concluded.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Official Acknowledges 1,500 Tuberculosis Cases In Prisons
On 2 April Aidin Gasimov, chairman of the Justice Ministry's Chief Office for the Execution of Court Rules, said in an interview with local media representatives that 1,500 prisoners in Azerbaijan suffer from tuberculosis. He did not say how the infection is spread, but added that the prisoners who have contracted TB are undergoing treatment in Penal Colony No. 3.

Human rights activist Chingiz Ganizade in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service disagreed with Gasimov's statement. He said that at present there are 17,000 persons in prison in Azerbaijan. "According to our information, more than 20 percent of them -- some 4,000 people -- have been infected with various forms of tuberculosis. However, the above-mentioned 1,500 detainees are suffering from serious forms of tuberculosis."

Ganizade noted that some prisoners also suffer from cancer, gastrointestinal disturbances, as well as drug addiction and venereal diseases. "The main cause of these illnesses is poor food, harsh prison conditions, non-observance of hygienic norms, and lack of sanitation," he said.

Another human rights activist, Leila Yunus, said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" that it is difficult to say definitively what diseases are widespread in places of detention. "So far, human rights activists have not been allowed to conduct monitoring in prisons," she added. Yunus said that she is aware that tuberculosis-infected prisoners are receiving treatment in Colony No. 3. "But only the International Committee of the Red Cross has access to this correctional institution. That organization keeps all information secret," Yunus concluded.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Opposition Candidate's Supporters Rally For His Safe Return
On 5 April the Democratic Party (ADP) held a sanctioned protest to call for the protection of the rights of Rasul Guliev, a former parliament speaker and ADP chairman. Guliev left Azerbaijan in 1996 and has been charged with embezzlement, charges that he and his supporters say were fabricated in order to keep him from challenging President Heidar Aliyev in the fall presidential elections. Demonstrators marched from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to Galaba Square, carrying slogans such as "Stop pressure on Rasul Guliev" and "Hold free and just elections," among others.

ADP Secretary-General Serdar Jelaloglu said in his speech that activists from a number of opposition parties also joined the demonstration. "We didn't make any official appeal. But by participating in this demonstration, these parties have shown their interest in a united struggle for Rasul Guliev's rights, as well as for free and just elections," Jelaloglu said

Meherrem Zulfugarli, deputy chairman of the National Independence Party (AMIP), also explained his party's participation in the protest in terms of the struggle for fair elections in Azerbaijan.

Jelaloglu pointed out that Guliev, who until recently had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States, left that country and at present is meeting with British politicians in London. Jelaloglu said that Guliev could return to Azerbaijan from England. "Having sensed Guliev's return to Azerbaijan, the government has begun to arrest his supporters," he added. At the protest Jelaloglu announced that Guliev would be the ADP's candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

ADP administrative secretary Hasret Rustamov noted that the chairmen of the party's Narimanov, Sebail, and Yasamal district organizations were arrested one day before the protest. Moreover, the police prevented Sumgait party members from joining the demonstration.

A resolution adopted at the end of the protest called for the government to stop pressure on Guliev and his relatives and supporters and to remove legal and political obstacles for the ex-speaker's return to Azerbaijan. The document also demanded the government resign because of its inability and unwillingness to fulfil its constitutional tasks.

(Natig Zeinalov)

AFFA Again in Hot Water Following Director's Arrest
On 1 April , officials detained Ogtai Zeinalov, general director of the Association of Soccer Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA), on suspicion of tax evasion. Earlier, the Tax Ministry twice visited AFFA offices to launch a surprise audit of the association's books, seizing computers and other equipment both in the offices and at Zeinalov's apartment and garage. The ministry says that AFFA still owes taxes on receipts from tickets from Azerbaijan's 6 September qualifying match with Italy as well as for broadcast fees.

AFFA President Fuad Musaev called Zeinalov's detention "unlawful" and "arbitrary." He also expressed readiness to be detained instead of Zeinalov. "The best thing now is to be imprisoned and not see such a disgrace," Musaev said.

Letif Novruzov, head of AFFA press service, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that they have already informed international organizations of Zeinalov's arrest and now are waiting for their reaction. Novruzov expressed the hope that the heads of FIFA and UEFA, who are expected to visit Azerbaijan soon, will put an end to the crisis. He noted that FIFA and UEFA have sent a fax to AFFA saying that if the Azerbaijani government responds positively, they are ready to come to Baku on 6 May and acquaint themselves with the situation on the spot. The authorities have already been informed about the fax, Novruzov said.

But Ragif Abbasov, press secretary of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism, said that they have not yet been informed. As for the FIFA and UEFA presidents' willingness to come to Baku, Abbasov said that there will no obstacles to their visits.

(Babek Bekir)

Government, Human Rights Groups, Submit Information for UN Torture Report
At the end of April, the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) will begin preparing its report on Azerbaijan for 2002. Elchin Behbudov, chairman of the local Committee against Torture, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that two reports -- the government's and his committee's -- will be submitted for UNCAT consideration. Behbudov said that the committee has submitted its 12-page report to the UN and the Council of Europe's Committees against Torture, the OSCE, and Amnesty International, as well as foreign embassies in Azerbaijan.

Behbudov noted that since its founding, the committee has received various complaints from more than 90 citizens in connection with torture, and 65 of them have been included in the report. The report consists of three parts: the first part lists 15 people who, the committee believes, died at law-enforcement bodies as a result of torture. The second part provides information about 50 people who have been tortured or were direct witnesses of those tortures. And the third part lists 21 officials in law-enforcement bodies accused of ordering and inflicting torture in places of temporary detention. Behbudov noted that although some of those 21 officials have been dismissed, most remain in their posts.

Interior Ministry press secretary Ehsan Zahidov called Behbudov's report "baseless," and denied that anyone held in detention at police precincts or ministry prisons has ever been subjected to torture. Zahidov claimed that international human rights activists have repeatedly visited the ministry's prisons and police stations to check that everything is in order. Therefore Behbudov's allegation is nothing but slander, Zahidov concluded.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

The opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" cites Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sherifov as saying that the Turkish government has appealed to Azerbaijan to help in settling Iraqi refugees should they leave the region of combat operations en masse.

Under the headline "New doors are opened at the gold market," the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that Armenia could be brought to the international court because of its occupation of gold fields belonging to the U.S.-based R.V. Investment, which has an agreement with the Azerbaijani government.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" cites Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, as saying that the opposition must certainly unite in order to defeat Aliev's regime.

Ahmed Oruj in an article entitled "Azerbaijan must stand together with Turkey" in the independent newspaper "525," notes that after the Iraq crisis is solved and U.S. troops are deployed in Iraq, U.S.-Iranian relations will undergo serious changes. It is still unclear how some issues will develop, but it is no secret that after the war against Iraq is over, the balance of power in the Middle East will be radically different from today's. Azerbaijan can solve its own problems or be faced with additional problems as a result of future processes in the region. Everything depends on what kind of policy Azerbaijan will pursue. Events to date show that strengthening the Turkish position is in Azerbaijan's national interests. Therefore, Azerbaijan supports Turkey in view of expected changes in the region.

Mahir Hamzeoglu in the article "Oil is becoming cheaper on the world market" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi," points out that there is no doubt that after the United States and Great Britain change the political regime in Iraq, oil prices will fall. If at present, under war conditions "black gold" costs $28-$30; in the future prices could fall below $20. As for its possible impact on Azerbaijan, Hamzeoglu notes that in 2003 oil prices will change in favor of the Azerbaijani state budget, because oil prices in the 2003 state budget are estimated at $19.5. This means that the budget will benefit. At the beginning of 2003 the average world oil price was $30, thanks to which in the first quarter the state budget received as additional $40 million-$50 million more than expected. This gives the government the opportunity to completely implement the budget and increase funding for state organizations. But a radical drop in world oil prices will take place in 2004. Such a situation is dangerous. Should the prices in the world oil market fall to $12-15 as it was in 1998, it could lead to a 30 percent deficit in the budget. In this case, the government will have to either spend funds from the State Oil Fund or appeal the International Monetary Fund for loans.

Khanlar Hajiev, the first Azerbaijani judge appointed to the European Court for Human Rights, responded to questions in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig." Asked how many complaints from Azerbaijan have been registered in the European Court, Hajiev said that there are a number of suits registered. But there is no accurate information whether these complaints have been accepted for consideration or not. "I will know after going there," Hajiev said. "When we acceded to the European Court's jurisdiction, we recognized that people will appeal to it and their violated rights will be restored there. We must consider this to be natural. It's not a competition. Azerbaijani citizens will have a chance to restore their rights, and we must be glad of that.... In general this issue must be considered from two aspects. On the one hand, people's rights will reinstated, on the other hand, we will have a chance to eliminate our defects and mistakes. Azerbaijan is a part of Europe, and we must benefit from European values, take them as a basis upon which we will run our legal system. Therefore, the European Court's decisions can be considered to only be useful for us," Hajiev concluded.

Parliament deputy and former Baku Mayor Rafael Allahverdiev said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue must be submitted to the parliament's consideration, of course. "Maybe the parliament, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the presidential administration consider this issue irrelevant. Frankly, I am not aware why discussion of this issue is not allowed. But I think that if parliament deputies had discussed this matter between themselves, no one would have prevented it." Touching on the presidential decree on stopping building and construction work in Icheri Sheher (Old City), known for its unusual fortress walls and architectural monuments, Allahverdiev said: "I do not think that I am the only person the president finds guilty in this respect. The inclusion of the name of Icheri Sheher on the UNESCO World Heritage List was at my own initiative. I do not say that we are completely innocent, but those who led Baku before me also share responsibility."

An author writing only as Aziz in an article entitled "Election games are being played among the opposition" in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" writes that "the participation of activists in the National Independence Party (AMIP) in the Democratic Party's (ADP) protest held on 5 April surprised many. What has happened to cause AMIP first to participate in the Opposition Coordination Center's meetings and then in the ADP protest? It is well known that this party has always denied alliances with other opposition parties and thus preferred to hold separate protests." Aziz cites experts as saying that AMIP is trying to benefit from the current situation. Recently a number of activists have left this party and every activist naturally has his own supporters. Thus it is self-evident that AMIP has become weaker. By holding protests with only its current support base, AMIP at present could lose many things rather than win. Thus the party has no alternative than to join other parties' protests. Aziz concludes that all these are games connected with the upcoming presidential elections.

The opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" recalls that on 3 April President Aliyev held a meeting with local authorities in Sumgait. During the meeting he dismissed Tavekkul Memmedov from his post as the head of the Executive Committee of Sumgait and criticized three parliament deputies elected from Sumgait. Those deputies acknowledged that what the president said was true. But when it comes down to concrete accusations, they note that "the president is wrongly informed." "So one of the sides -- either the president or the deputies -- is telling lies." Seyyad Aran, a parliament deputy from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), said in an interview with the newspaper: "Perhaps some information has been exaggerated. But at any case the president's remarks voiced during the meeting are absolutely true. As usual, the president made his presence felt at the necessary time and effected a change in staff, thus proving again, that he maintains control of the political and public processes to the smallest detail." But Fezail Agamali, chairman of the pro-governmental Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party, noted that the head of state has sufficient sources of information. There is no reason to suspect the reliability of the president's statements.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)