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Azerbaijan Report: May 9, 2003

9 May 2003
Editors Condemn Newspaper Attack
On 4 May at 9.30 p.m. about 20-30 people, led by Faramaz Allahverdiev, burst into the editorial office of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat." Allahverdiev is one of the former activists of the Popular Front Party and a former chairman of the Sharur district's Council of People's Deputies. He was once one of Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev's agitators.

Recently Allahverdiev has got himself noticed because of his sharp criticism of opposition Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar and Mirmahmud Miralioglu, head of the "conservative faction" within the People's Front Party. Gabil Abbasoglu, the newspaper's deputy editor in chief, who was a witness of the incident, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the assailants were looking for him and the newspaper's editor in chief Rauf Arifoglu. Another witness Elshad Pashasoi said that the attackers insulted and beat him, Abbasoglu, and another man. After 20-30 minutes the attackers were detained by the police.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service Rauf Arifoglu said that the editorial staff was aware of the possibility of an attack some days before and Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and the Sabail Police Department were informed. In response to their appeal, the police department stationed a officer in front of the editorial office. But some hours prior to the incident the officer had left his post. According to preliminary data, there was $3,000 worth of damage at the newspaper, Arifoglu said.

But Nazim Nagiev, head of the Sabail Police Department, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the incident must not be exaggerated. A number of people simply tried to protest and were prevented and four of them were detained, he said.

The Editors Union held an extraordinary meeting on the incident. Arif Aliev, chairman of the New Generation Journalists Union, said that the participants of the meeting categorically condemned the assault, calling it a step directed against the freedom of the press and speech. Aliyev noted that the union will hold a protest on 12 May.

Peter Burkhard, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Baku Office, who visited the editorial office, called the assault an attack against free media and freedom of speech. U.S. Embassy officials also visited the office, but refused to comment on the situation. (Maarif Chingizoglu and Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Human Rights Activists Dissatisfied With Amnesty Law
On 6 May the Azerbaijani parliament (Milli Mejlis) overwhelmingly approved the president's draft law on amnesty. The document, which is expected to affect 14,000 prisoners, was adopted on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the victory over the fascism. The amnesty law provides for the release of 3,400 people from correctional institutions, a reduction in the prison terms of 2,200 convicts, and the removal of guilt from 5,400 people serving conditional sentences, as well as the release of more than 2,000 people awaiting criminal trial. Although the amnesty covers a wide range of convicts, local human rights organizations doubt that it will affect 14,000 people.

Adil Ismailov, head of the Adisad law firm, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that despite the multitude of categories which the amnesty applies to, the document also contains numerous restrictions. For example, there are restrictions on the application of the amnesty law for people convicted by 184 out of 253 articles of the existing criminal code. And these 184 articles are considered to be the most common. Therefore, Ismailov thinks that the claim that the document embraces 14,000 people does not, in fact, reflect reality. The law is most beneficial for those prisoners who have six months until their release or were arrested for drug use. Ismailov noted that the amnesty does not apply to people who are considered political prisoners, since the articles of the criminal code by which they were imprisoned do not fall under the amnesty law.

Arzu Abdullaeva, chairman of the National Committee of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, agrees that the estimated number of pardoned people has been exaggerated. She said that none of those, who are considered to be political prisoners, would be released under this amnesty. "Members of OMON [special police forces], as well as political prisoners have been arrested on the charge of committing state crimes. But the law does not provide articles for such crimes," she said. But a deputy from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) and a member of the parliamentary commission on legal policy and state system building, Bahar Muradova, denied these allegations, calling them "politically motivated." "All details have been taken into account in the document," she said, adding "the number of pardoned people shown in the amnesty law corresponds to reality." Until the latest amnesty the president had signed six decrees of pardon. Under those decrees, 83,000 people were released from prison. (Maarif Chingizoglu)

State-owned newspapers "Azerbaycan" and "Khalg" ran President Aliev's appeal to the Azerbaijani people on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany on 9 May. Human rights activist Murad Saddeddinov said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" that the Azerbaijani government has fulfilled some of its obligations undertaken before the Council of Europe but not on the issue of political prisoners.

Under the headline, "The Government Undertakes Appropriate Measures To Prevent Problems Regarding Flooding," the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" pointed out that at present some 600 water pumps have been set up to help deal with the disaster, which struck earlier this year.

An author, writing under the name Rasim, noted that NATO has recently been showing an apparent interest in the South Caucasus region. Because of this the alliance's secretary-general Lord George Robertson is planning to visit the region, experts say.

Zohrab Ismail, writing in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," called the recent open interference in political processes by law-enforcement bodies, as well as the protest of deputies from the ruling YAP against the government's policy toward international institutions, "very dangerous tendencies." By openly supporting President Aliev's candidacy, the ministers of national security, interior, and defense signaled their participation in the political process. Ismail noted that deputies, at a recent session of deputies from the ruling YAP, gave a hostile reception to the suggestion from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights regarding the formation of electoral commissions. The deputies have never been supportive of cooperation with the Council of Europe and the OSCE. They now realize that should international organizations' suggestions be adopted and they lose control of election campaigns, they will be deprived of the possibility to achieve results. Ismail wrote that the current aggression by representatives of the government is linked to pessimism about the president's health. According to the author, officials and deputies who have accumulated illegal wealth and taken posts they are unworthy of, are now in a mess. They realize that Aliev's government is collapsing, but cannot become reconciled to this fact.

Ahmed Oruj, writing in the independent newspaper "525," remarked that despite the fact that little more than five months remain until the presidential elections, some issues regarding the ballot have yet to be clarified. Under the government's draft electoral code, a law on the elections was to be adopted at least six months prior to the vote. After experts from the Council of Europe failed to approve the draft code, the government fell into confusion. "The evident efforts by the government to create a confrontation within the opposition have yet to produce an effect. Despite all the contradictions...the majority of the opposition is still able to hold a common position regarding the electoral code. During previous parliamentary and presidential elections the government was able to agree with some forces within the opposition. After striking a deal with the government, these forces either ruined the opposition's cohesion or caused great difficulties by changing sides. But this time the situation is quite different.... The existing uncertainty in the ruling camp regarding the upcoming elections has left its 'representatives in the opposition' in a difficult situation."

In an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" opposition Musavat Party activist Arif Hajiev said that some opposition forces, who realize that they will not be able to win through democratic elections, are interested in destabilizing the country. The author pointed out that now there is a situation in the country where the opinion of the party and some state structures could coincide. In other words, the Musavat Party is interested in maintaining stability. The author wrote that the most successful variant is if Aliyev participates in the elections and they are carried out fairly. Recent developments show that other variants are also possible. But unfortunately there are some forces within both government circles and the opposition camp that are interested in destabilizing the country.

World War II veteran Amirali Amiraliev, in an interview with the newspaper "Khalg," spoke about the heroism of the 416th armored division and the role of Baku oil. He wrote that one of five divisions that entered Berlin in 1945 was the "416th division" from Azerbaijan. And he said that the role of Baku oil in the war can not be understated. If there had been no Baku oil, the fate of the war would have been different, he wrote. Prominent Soviet marshals repeatedly wrote in their memoirs that Baku oil played a vital role in ensuring the victory over fascism. Baku provided 75-80 percent of the fuel and lubricants and 95-98 percent of the jet propellant needed for the front.

An author, writing under the name Khalide in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi," commented on the danger faced by the Salyan and Neftchala districts as a result of the rise of the water level of the River Kur. Parliamentary Deputy Rufet Agalarov blames vice premier Abid Sharifov, who heads the state emergency commission, for the existing situation. Sharifov, for his part, visited the stricken districts by helicopter and has appeared on television saying that everything is all right. But the situation is not as Sharifov describes it, the author wrote. If appropriate measures are not taken, recently built dams could be destroyed. Khalide noted that people are being forced to buy soil at a price of 20,000 manat ($4.23) per sack and build dams in order to protect themselves from the tragedy. But what about the opposition? Opposition activists always speak about people's hard times, assuring them that should they come to power, they would lead the nation into a new "golden age." But none of them have visited the disaster zone, the author wrote, and are only interested in what happens in Baku. (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)