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Azerbaijan Report: April 11, 2003

11 April 2003
French Organization Criticizes Azerbaijan�s Human Rights Record
Following the release of the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report for 2002, the Paris-headquartered International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) has sent a letter to the Azerbaijani president expressing concern about the human rights situation in Azerbaijan.

According to the Turan news agency, the letter, signed by the federation's president Sidiki Kaba, criticizes the terms of consideration of the government's unified draft of the election code and human rights violations during the last August referendum on amendments to the Constitution, as well as attacks on the free media.

Saida Gojamanli, head of the Bureau for Human Rights and Protection of Law, a non-governmental organization told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the human rights situation in Azerbaijan is, indeed, tense enough to trouble international organizations.

"The problem of political prisoners has not been solved, there are numerous obstacles preventing a free media, and non-governmental organizations continue to face problems getting registered," Gojamanli said.

But Aidin Mirzazade, a deputy from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), disagreed with the facts cited in both the U.S. State Department's report and the FIDH's letter to the Azerbaijani president. Although the letter indicates that the organization is paying attention to Azerbaijan, the facts shown there do not reflect the real situation in the country.

"The letter claims that non-governmental organizations opposing the amendments to the Constitution have been declared pro-Armenian forces. It also states that Adalat (Justice) and Democrat parties' activists have been arrested. I cannot understand how the changes to the Constitution affect this," Mirzazade asked. Mirzazade noted that there are numerous international organizations dealing with human rights. The name of FIDH sounds impressive, but this organization's allegations cannot be considered a critical and reliable barometer of human rights. He said that everyday people throughout the world, as well as in France, bring suits against the media and other institutions. "But this does not mean that France is an undemocratic country."

Gojamanli disagreed with Mirzazade's argument. As for the letter's accuracy, Gojamanli said that international organizations are aware of the situation in Azerbaijan through their own monitoring, as well as local non-governmental organizations.

"I admit that international human rights organizations work closely with us. They, themselves, also have accurate information on the situation in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government must improve the situation in order to no longer receive such letters," she concluded.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Opposition Parties Protest Nardaran Villagers' Conviction as Unjust
On 10 April some 50 activists of opposition parties, united under the Azerbaijani Forces' Union (AQB), held a sanctioned picket in front of the supreme and appeal courts, demanding the release of four Nardaran residents, who were tried and jailed for their involvement in the clash between the police and the villagers on 3 June 2002. Earlier on 1 April, the Court for Serious Crimes passed sentences on 15 Nardaran villagers. The court gave 11 Nardaran residents suspended sentences and release them from the jail. But the remaining four were given prison terms.

Islamic Party Activist Kerbalai Rovshan told picketers that these events have once again proved that the government does not intend to meet the people's social demands. It even ignores the world's criticism and is ready to resort to various injustices to prolong its life, Rovshan concluded.

Social Democrat Party (ASDP) deputy chairman Seiran Mirzaev read a protest resolution. The document states that the government provoked the June 2002 clash in Nardaran, and during the trial the court did not administer truth and justice, but fulfilled the order of this provocateur. The resolution also called the four villagers the sacrificial lambs of the government's dirty game. The AQB activists demanded that the arrested villagers� case be reconsidered. At the end of the protest the copies of the resolution were submitted to the supreme and appeal courts.

(Babek Bekir)

Parents Protest Cadets' Expulsion at Presidential Administration Building
On 8 April parents of former cadets of the High Military School picketed in front of the Presidential Administration building. On 3 September last year, some 2,000 cadets walked out of the academy to protest harsh conditions and the school's new leadership, and to demand the return of Turkish officers to the school.

The cadets later returned to the academy. But the government's reaction to the cadets' demands was unexpected. Instead of investigating their complaints, it punished them. The academy's director Tofig Gasimov was dismissed from his post, but at the same time 36 cadets were expelled from the school and sent to the Karabakh front lines.

The parents of these punished cadets demanded that the officials recall their children from the front. They also called for Defense Minister Safar Abiev's resignation.

Alekber Memmedov, head of the Azerbaijani Center for Democratic Civil Control of the Armed Forces, said at the picket that the parents' main demand now is the defense minister's resignation and restoration of their children's violated rights. But Ramiz Melikov, the defense ministry's press secretary, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that since the president, the supreme commander-in-chief, appointed the defense minister to his post, the wish of former cadets' parents is of no importance. It is meaningless to return to a closed case, Melikov concluded.

But the picket did not go without incident. The police seized a camera and tape recorder from a reporter of the newspaper "Ekho." Moreover, they assaulted a correspondent of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat."

(Babek Bekir)

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" cites the Turan news agency as saying that Interior Minister Ramil Usubov at a 10 April meeting with his subordinates acknowledged the fact that some Interior Ministry's employees use drugs.

Under the headline "As the elections approaches, the formation of opposition blocs is becoming more active," the governmental newspaper "Khalg" points out that it is unreal that the parties of the right, the left, the center and the ultra-radicals will nominate a common candidate.

According to the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan," the country's macroeconomic figures in all sectors have risen in the first quarter of 2003.

Namig Jeferov, head of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism's Office for Work with Youth, said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" that preferential credits aimed at improving newly married couples' living conditions would be given beginning in 2004.

Azer Huseinbala in the article "Drug addict police" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" comments on the interior minister's revelations at the latest meeting with interior ministry officials. Huseinbala writes that "High-ranking officials take bribes�and smoke drugs as well. But what is the reason for such lawlessness from policemen, who have become captives of Aliev�s regime? In fact, there is no need to think about it for very long. Our policemen, not all, of course, have mastered the skill of slipping drugs into someone's pockets. A policeman always has drugs in his pocket for this reason. Now ask yourself: if a person has a sweet in his pocket, will he not eat it one day? So why would a policeman refuse to try the drugs that he has long carried? On the other hand, this is also an additional source of income for a police official, who is in no position to keep his family with the current low wages." Huseinbala also points out that there is nothing strange in the interior minister's allegation that policemen smoke drugs and sell them. He could have made this statement long before.

An author writing only as Tofigoglu in an article entitled "Safar Abiev is going to Washington" points out that some days before during a meeting with Azerbaijani President Aliyev American ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson said that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has invited Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev to Washington. The Azerbaijani president saw this as a positive development. Tofigoglu writes that he has appealed to defense officials to make clear what issues will be discussed during the upcoming visit, but he has not yet received any response. However a military expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Abiev's visit to the United States is linked with Azerbaijan's support for the U.S.-led anti-Iraqi coalition. The expert noted that during the visit the minister could also discuss the issue of the United States using Azerbaijani airspace. The expert supposed that during negotiations Azerbaijan could also secure American military assistance in the form of military training. Most of the present Azerbaijani officer corps received Soviet training. During the meeting political issues could also come up. In other words, after Abiev's visit the diplomatic activities between the two countries with regard to occupied Azerbaijani lands could increase.

U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Ayna" that it is the Azerbaijani people's right to determine a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "The United States, as well as me personally, think that the resumption of military operations will raise numerous problems for both the conflicting sides and the region in general." The ambassador noted that the resumption of war would deal a blow to the progress and stability achieved in the region. This will be a step back. The achievements in the sphere of personal freedoms and freedom of speech will be lost. Wilson pointed out that a war must be a last resort in the settlement of conflicts. Iraq is an exceptional case. There have been no negotiations with Iraq for the last 12 years. Moreover, the Baghdad regime "with its weapons of mass destruction" constituted a threat to the whole world. "It is true that the negotiations with Armenia have not produced the desired result. But they have been productive," Wilson said.

Ali Kerimli, chairman of the "reformist faction" of the Azerbaijan People's Front Party (AXCP), in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" expressed hope that 2003 will indeed be a turning-point for Azerbaijan. "I said at the parliament as well to look around and point out any country where citizens, tens of thousands of people regularly demand a president's resignation. Where is there such a tendency? Nowhere, besides Azerbaijan� So, there is a serious and popular-backed opposition in Azerbaijan and the people do not support this government and want to change it." Kerimli refuted the allegation that the government initiated the common opposition candidate issue.

Ahmed Oruj in the article "Majlis's opposition or the opposition in the Majlis?" in the independent newspaper "525" comments on the opposition deputies' walkout from the Milli Majlis (parliament) during a discussion of the draft election code. Oruj writes that the Azerbaijani opposition has been using this step since 1991. "To be frank, this method is observed in few countries, and an opposition would resort to it only if it would break a quorum. In world practice factions without enough representatives to break a quorum resort to two methods of protest against an apparent violation of law or a refusal to consider their proposals--they either prevent a parliament from working by raising a clamor or hinder parliament members from speaking by blocking the podium. What is interesting here is that the Azerbaijani opposition does not still use these methods." Oruj notes that it is advisable for the opposition to benefit from other methods than a walkout. But a boycott is not acceptable. First of all because not all the opposition will participate in the boycott. Second, at a time when the region is experiencing serious changes, the "voice of boycott" will be heard only in Azerbaijan. And third, a boycott is nothing but a retreat from the struggle for national interests, Oruj concludes.

Zaur Shakiroglu in an article entitled "What happens in the boycotter-camp?" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that "as the presidential ballot approaches, a struggle between the political forces is gaining momentum. The struggle within both the government and the opposition sometimes assumes a dramatic character." Shakiroglu notes that the opposition's current situation is strained. But the situation with the boycotters is more tragic. Since the beginning of the election year, boycotters have known that should they go to the elections they will lose; but should they boycott the ballot they will fall into political collapse. Therefore even they themselves admit that "This is our last election year." (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)