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Azerbaijan Report: June 24, 2003

24 June 2003
PACE to Hear Report on Azerbaijan Political Prisoners
A number of media and human rights activists believe that the upcoming report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan could result in Azerbaijan being suspended from the Council of Europe. On 26 June the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will hear a special representative Georges Clerfayt's report on the political prisoner situation in Azerbaijan. Earlier, on 5 June, Clerfayt delivered a report to the Council of Europe Legal and Human Rights Committee, in which he criticized Baku for failing to fulfil its commitments on the release of political prisoners.

Gulamhusein Alibeyli, a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, says that the Council of Europe could impose sanctions against the country.But Samed Seidov, another member of the delegation, disagrees. He notes that Azerbaijan has met a number of its obligations and does not believe in imposing sanctions. Seidov also expressed dissatisfaction with the rapporteur's report, adding that it does not reflect reality.

Nevertheless, a number of local organizations have expressed their support for Clerfayt's report and even appealed to Council of Europe. For example, the Editors' Union in its letter to the council pointed to violations of human rights in the country.

Zafer Guliev of Turan news agency told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that it is difficult to say exactly what Baku could expect at this PACE session. "Local politicians and the press are emphasizing the possibility of sanctions," he said. "But the issue is that as a member of the Council of Europe, the country is losing its reputation every year. Therefore, this question has been repeatedly raised. There must be no political prisoners in the council's member states, in general. But Azerbaijan refuses to address the political prisoner matter, citing various pretexts. All this has a negative impact on the country's image and this negative image will affect a solution to the country's essential issues, especially the regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,' Guliev concluded.

(Almaz Nasibova)

Rights Group to Challenge Law On NGOs
A local election monitoring organization has filed a court appeal over the law on non-governmental organizations, which they say is counter to a functioning democracy. The Election Monitoring Center has appealed to the Constitutional Court over the legal restrictions that prohibit NGOs that receive international funds from participating in election monitoring, said Anar Memmedli, executive secretary of the Election Monitoring Center. Memmedli added that the center has also petitioned international institutions, asking them to support its campaign for unrestricted monitoring of the election process.

Under the law on NGOs, non-governmental organizations that receive funding from international sources are not allowed to monitor elections. But this practically prevents any NGOs from participating the monitoring process.

Sevil Hamidova, president of the Political Pluralism Institute, said that Article 2.4 of the law on NGOs contradicts not only the country's Constitution but also the Council of Europe's Human Rights Convention and the principles of the OSCE Copenhagen Document.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Local newspapers focus on the ongoing summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Under the headline "PACE has supported Clerfayt," the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" comments on the current meeting and points out that Baku has failed to make the political prisoner issue a moot point. Presidential son Ilham Aliev, head of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, disagrees with rapporteur George Clerfayt's report, calling this document "biased." But Gulamhusein Alibeyli, a member of the Azerbaijani PACE delegation, said that the political prisoner problem is the most urgent issue in the country.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," Mehdi Mehdiev, director of the Human Rights Resource Center, said that a strange situation has developed within the country. The rapporteur's report reflects current realities and embraces all political specters of the country. Mehdiev also touched on the appeal of some local non-governmental organizations to the Council of Europe in protest against the report. He said that some NGO representatives are anxious about this report because "a number of NGOs have two legs. One is in the Presidential Administration, the other is in the opposition." The government states that it doesn't want to worsen relations with the Council of Europe. But in fact it is encouraging this. The government should make clear its non-compliance with its obligations to the Council of Europe.

Behmen Faziloglu in the article "The truth of Strasbourg" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" notes that the events taking place in Strasbourg prove that Europe is paying attention to processes in the South Caucasus, especially the issue regarding elections and human rights. "We must take into account that release of our occupied lands must be effected through democratic elections and establishment of democratic institutions, along with army building. Because the democratic world measures who is true with the extent of the democratic values assimilated by any given country. This could be estimated as a strange and unfair principle. For example, if a democratic state occupies the lands of an autocratic one, the wrong side would be considered to be the state ruled by the autocratic government� The Council of Europe would like to have partners who have assimilated democratic values." In other words, democratic elections, as well as human rights are no longer considered to be the internal affair of each country.

The processes taking place in Iran is one of the topical themes of newspapers. Historical scientist Khaleddin Ibrahim in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" protested against presenting the current processes in Iran as student rallies. The chief motive for the disorders is common discontent among the Iranian population. Various protests against Iran's regime have been held before as well. For example, Tehran's regime made mass arrests in 1990s as a result of the protest actions of the local population in South Azerbaijan. Therefore, today's protests cannot be explained as only students' protests against the regime. The struggle for national rights is also proceeding in Iran, along with the common discontent, which is led by political organizations created by non-Persians.

Under the headline "Iran deploys landing and intelligence forces in areas bordering Azerbaijan," the pro-government newspaper "525" cites Turan news agency as saying that the Iranian settlements located on the border have been emptied by Iran's armed and security forces; the population has been removed to other territories. Those areas are now occupied by landing and intelligence forces. Tehran has undertaken this measure after the recent allegation that the United States intends to station 15,000 soldiers in Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as use these countries as a launching pad for a possible incursion into Iran. In general, Tehran is anxious about the upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan and the student movement within Iran itself, as well as the strengthening of U.S. influence in the Caucasus.

An author writing only as Nasimi in the article "Pensions will be increased soon" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that Heydar Aliyev is trying to deceive the people with all available means. The president, who realizes that he will not be able to be reelected by the people's will, has chosen various tactics. Nasimi notes that since the beginning of the year the wages of employees that are financed from the state budget are being increased. This should be estimated as an attempt to convince or rather to trick the people. The author points to increasing wages of people working in the educational, cultural, museum, health and other spheres and says that now pensions are expected to be raised. According to Finance Minister Avez Alekberov, the pensions of 1,208,000 people would be increased, and 210 billion manats (about $42.7 million) are planned to be allocated for this from the state budget. After the increase the lowest pension in the country will raise by 20,000 manats ($4) to 90,000 manats ($18). The author writes that the government intends to make a political move by all this. Aliev's regime thinks that by increasing wages slightly it will be able to win the votes of the people whom it has left without bread at least for the last five years.

Goyturk in an article entitled "The illegal sale of land continues" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" writes that the president has issued a decree instructing the government to draw up a list of buildings in the vicinity of all oil and gas pipelines. The document has instructed Baku authorities to halt the distribution of lands in these areas and to resettle to other areas people who have bought lands with the authorities' permission. The author points out that corresponding institutions have submitted the lists of illegal buildings to the commission created within the Cabinet of Ministers. But no measures have been undertaken to demolish these illegal buildings. On the contrary, the selling of lands and illegal building in prohibited areas continues.

An author writing only as Aziz in the article "Small parties whose ambitions are many times larger than themselves" in the government newspaper "Khalg" writes that the destructive opposition resembles a tree whose roots are rotting and leaves are growing yellow and falling. Nevertheless, the opposition is making its bid for power. But it does not stop to calculate whether it is strong enough to achieve its objectives. The opposition is likely aware of its own social basis and therefore it has chosen the path of the negative campaign--forming a negative image of the country by slandering the government and giving false information to international organizations in order to divert the attention from itself. But it is impossible to prevent internal decay and destruction by this way. The author then criticizes the activities of the leading opposition National Independence, Musavat, Democratic, People's Front and Civic Unity parties, saying that these five ambitious parties daily lose more than they win. The social basis of any one of them is much weaker than the government's.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)