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Azerbaijan Report: January 4, 2002

4 January 2002
Opposition Plans New Protest Action
On 4 January, opposition parties aligned in the United Meeting Committee scheduled their next protest action for 29 January. Karabakh Liberation Organisation Chairman Akif Naghi told journalists after the meeting that they intend to hold regular protest actions in connection with the Karabakh conflict.

According to Naghi, there are already differences among the opposition forces. Nureddin Mammadli from the Azerbaijan Democrat Party says that they intend to join only illegal actions in the city centre. The Karabakh Liberation Organisation and some other parties support this approach. Azerbaijan's national Hero Shahin Taghiyev similarly says he does not support the idea of requesting official permission to hold protest actions in connection with the Karabakh conflict.

Naghi said the majority of parties in the committee agree that this time they should inform the Baku municipal authorities in advance in writing of the planned protest.

(Babek Bekir)

Some Newspapers Are Pardoned, Others Taken To Court
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev suggested late in December to government officials that they should withdraw law suits they have brought against local newspapers. As a result, five days later Baku mayor Hajibala Abutalibov and Huseyn Huseynov, president of the Azeravtonagliyyat (Azerbaijan auto-transport) state company, announced that they have withdrawn their claims against some newspapers. The newspaper "Bakinskiy bulvar" was suspended and some newspapers were fined huge sums at Abutalibov's instigation. Huseyn Huseynov's suit resulted in the court fining the newspaper "Avropa" 190 million manats ($40,000) and the newspaper "Kriminal" 50 million manats.

Azer Garachenli, director of the newspaper "Avropa," thinks that it is the result of the Azerbaijani president's initiative. Garachenli notes that it is a positive development for an official to withdraw an unfair claim.

But some officials have acted contrary to the president's initiative. Legal proceedings have been launched against Eynulla Fetullayev from the newspaper "Milletin sesi." According to Fetullayev, police officials came to his home and summoned him to court. Fetullayev went to the Nerimanov district court on 3 January and was told there that presidential administration head Ramiz Mehdiyev has brought legal proceedings against him. The trial will continue on 8 January under the chairmanship of judge Elkhan Babayev. Some months ago, the editor in chief of the newspaper, Shahbaz Khuduoglu, was detained on the same charges but was later pardoned by President Aliev.

Asked whether he will appeal to the president, Fetullayev said he has no intention of doing so.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Problem Of Political Prisoners Under Discussion
The Council of Europe Law and Human Rights Committee will meet this month and discuss the degree to which Azerbaijan has implemented its commitments to that organisation. Some political circles do not rule out that Azerbaijan's right to vote will be frozen until April 2002 and stricter demands will be made on the country. It is reported that George Clerfayt, the Committee's rapporteur for Azerbaijan, will deliver a report on political prisoners as well as on the results of his visit to Azerbaijan in late December and Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev's amnesty decree.

The head of the Fund for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Hajimurad Sadeddinov, says that there are serious grounds for such concern because the Azerbaijani president's amnesty decree does not meet the Council of Europe's requirements. According to Sadeddinov, these discussions are not advantageous for Azerbaijan. According to him, the fact that Armenia has submitted two documents to the Council of Europe against Azerbaijan can create a negative attitude towards Azerbaijan. One of the documents claims that Armenian historical monuments on Azerbaijani territory have been destroyed, the other says that some Azerbaijani officials issue calls to war which can damage the Karabakh peace talks.

According to Sadeddinov, it is not too late for the Azerbaijani leadership to settle its problems by changing its attitude to political prisoners once for all. He pointed out that the majority of these prisoners have served the greater part of their punishment and some have been infected with non-treatable diseases. As for Isgandar Hamidov, Rahim Gaziev and Alakram Humbatov, Sadeddinov says that the Azerbaijani government's strict attitude to them does not change the situation.

President Aliyev had responded very harshly to the journalists' question why political prisoners were not pardoned under the amnesty decree. He said he would consider any pressure by the Council of Europe regarding those prisoners to be directed not against him, but against the Azerbaijani State.

But some human rights organisations think differently. According to Ali Mustafayev, Chairman of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee, neither Rahim Gaziev nor Alakram Humbatov are political prisoners. Mustafayev argues that pardoning prisoners who committed state crimes can lay the foundation for very dangerous tendencies. Mustafayev says that the international organisations' strict reaction will have a certain impact. But it would be better if the Azerbaijani government acted humanely, which it unfortunately does not.

(Babek Bekir)

Central Election Commission Meets
Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (CEC) met on 3 January to discuss organizational issues, stressing that the proportional representation of the opposition political parties in CEC must not be violated. It was stressed that the parties represented in the parliament should also be represented on the CEC. At present the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and the Civil Solidarity Party are represented on the CEC but the communists are not.

On the initiative of CEC Chairman Mezahir Penahov, an official of Communist Party was named a member of Kapaz district election commission.

It was decided that if a seat on the CEC becomes vacant in future, a representative of the Communist party can join the commission.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

The chairman of the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Azerbaijanis of the World, Boyuk Rasuloglu, in an interview with the newspaper "Azadlig," stated that the issue of the Azerbaijani community in Iran will be settled sooner or later and Azerbaijanis will return to those lands. Because of this the Azerbaijani government and the opposition would rather gather together and discuss their problems. According to Rasuloglu, in order to achieve solidarity among Azerbaijan's intellectuals, it is necessary to hinder mass emigration from Azerbaijan. Leaving the country does not mean settlement of problems. He said that at present thousands of Azerbaijanis are waging a struggle for national revival struggle in Iran and that a similar struggle for unification should begin in Azerbaijan.

Zahid Safaroglu writes in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that it is necessary to study seriously whether all the persons identified as political prisoners by the Council of Europe belong in this category or not. The author refers to Rahim Gaziev and Alikram Humbatov, stressing that those people worked against the Azerbaijani state. Azerbaijani lawyers think that Gaziev and Humbatov do not pose a major danger for society, but no one can guarantee this. According to Safaroglu, such calls for the release of political prisoners show that the supporters of a democratic society are not altruistic but want to implement their own agenda.

Azer Hesret in an article carried by the newspaper "Azadlig" writes that both private and Azerbaijan state television are guilty of careless and ungrammatical use of the Azerbaijani language. This is all the more serious in the case of state television as it broadcasts nationwwide. Such illiterate broadcasts alienate viewers. Similarly low standards are encountered in some newspapers and can be attributed to an inadequate knowledge of Azerbaijani Turkish.

Vusal Gasimov writes in "Yeni Musavat" that Azerbaijan's national banking system is in danger. The author writes that foreigners can take over Azerbaijan's banking sector. He claims that Azerbaijani officials are hinting that the prohibition on the participation of foreign capital in Azerbaijan's banking sector can be repealed. After this ban is lifted, the investments required for Azerbaijan's economic development will be channelled into the banking sector. It is necessary to make more active new investment centres in order to preserve the tempo of economic development, to protect economic-political sovereignty, accept foreign investments. The author writes that by selling shares in state banks, promoting foreign investment in the banking sector and closing private banks, Azerbaijan accelerates the process for foreigners to take control of the country.

Even though Turkey's Barmek Holding has taken over Azerbaijan's energy sector, serious discussions over the company are still going on. The newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" writes that within 30 years "Barmek Holding" will recoup what it spent to acquire the sector and show a profit. The company hopes that it will be able to collect fees for energy. If it does, the company's net annual profit will be $25 million.Within 14 years, the company will have a total profit of $300 million.

The newspaper "Ekho" studied the channels through which Barmek Holding came to Azerbaijan. According to the newspaper, this issue is discussed in the Turkish press as well. The Turkey-based newspaper "Hurriyyet" has recently carried the alleged transcript of a telephone conversation between Turkey's former President Suleyman Demirel and the Barmek Holding head in which Demirel told the Barmek Holding head that he will organise a meeting between him and the Azerbaijani president and they must immediately come to Baku to this end. According to the newspaper, both Suleyman Demirel and the company leadership distanced themselves from the transcript. The newspaper writes that this clearly shows through whose mediation Barmek finalized its acquisition in Azerbaijan and it is possible to forecast the result.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)