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Azerbaijan Report: January 26, 2002

26 January 2002
Baku Reviews The Cases Of Political Prisoners
As the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe discussed on 24 January the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, political prisoner Alikram Humbatov was re-tried on that same day. On 30 January, the case of Azerbaijan's former defence minister Rahim Gaziyev will also be reviewed. But there is no information about the actions to be taken with regard to former interior minister Isgandar Hamidov. The fact that the re-trial will be held in Gobustan closed prison gives rise to some arguments. It is supposed that even if the trials are held, the prisoners themselves will not participate in them.

Lawyer Chingiz Ganizadeh says that it is unacceptable and it can give rise to new disputes among the lawyers and officials while the Council of Europe holds discussions regarding Azerbaijan. Ganizade says that they are going to appeal to the Council of Europe for the issue and the government's new attempts to aggravate the situation cannot be accepted as normal by local and international organisations.

Ganizadeh says Azerbaijan cannot achieve anything by deceiving the Council of Europe. According to him, it is urgent to hold fair trials and set out fair accusations, but the trial must be held in one of the large halls of the court, which have not been used since long. There will be many people who are interested in the three trials.

Isgandar Hamidov's lawyer Yaver Hussein says that unlike Gaziev and Humbatov, Hamidov will not be tried this week, his trial is planned for next week.

Rahim Gaziev's lawyer Elton Guliev in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service said that even though the trial will be held on 30 January, he has not been able to meet with Gaziev yet and will meet him on 26 January. The lawyer hopes that the re-trial will differ from the former ones.

As stated by lawyer Aslan Ismailov, Azerbaijani officials are playing a double game with the Council of Europe. The fact that Humbatov's re-trial was held on 24 January is not a coincidence. According to Ismailov, by scheduling the trial on the same day with PACE discussions, Baku wants to gain time.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Khatai Municipality Evicted From Its Premises
While Azerbaijani citizens expect the municipalities to settle their problems, the municipalities themselves are faced with numerous obstacles. The Khatai district municipality, which serves some 300,000 citizens, was evicted forcibly from its premises on 22 January. Tahir Suleymanov, a member of the municipality from the Musavat party told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that police officials forced them to leave their premises together with their equipment. Now, they have pitched a tent in front of the former headquarters and continue their activity. According to Suleymanov, they have appealed to different bodies as well as the Ministry for Economic Development to clarify the situation. He says they have been offered alternative premies but rejected them as they are delapidated and would cost up to 100 million manats to repair, which is more than the local council can afford.

Even though the chairman of the Khatai municipality is Nabi Asgarov from the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, their problem has not been settled yet.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Union of Editors Meets
On 24 January, the Editors' Union and Azerbaijani lawyers held a meeting to discuss newspapers which have been suspended. According to Azer Hesret, Chairman of the Journalists' Trades Union, the meeting focussed on the state of the media outlets after the meeting with the Azerbaijani president. According to Hesret, some problems of the press still remain unsettled after the meeting with the head of state. The pressure on the newspapers "Milletin sesi", "Femida" and "Bakinskiy Bulvar" became harsher. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Milletin sesi" is prosecuted, "Bakinskiy Bulvar" is under pressure from tax bodies, the bank accounts of the newspaper "Femida" were closed on the eve of the meeting with the president.

Hesret said that even though president of the Azerautonegliyyat (Azerautotransport) state concern Hussein Baghirov has declared that he has withdrawn the suit he brought against the newspaper "Avropa," he has not made any formal move to do so. Baku mayor Hajibala Abutalibov has not done so either. Because of this, editors have again raised the issue of protest actions.

The editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Milletin sesi," Shahbaz Khuduoglu, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that newspapers are mainly suspended by a court order and there is no legal mechanism to restore their activity. The session also discussed fines imposed on media outlets.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

What Do Azerbaijani Lawyers Think Of Political Prisoners?
The Council of Europe demands Azerbaijan carry out its commitments regarding political prisoners and debates about this ruling are underway. The Azerbaijani government claims that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan but the opposition and lawyers state otherwise. There are differences regarding political prisoners in the opposition camp as well.

Azerbaijani lawyers' opinions regarding political prisoners are also different. There are also rumours that the close relatives of the political prisoners whose names are sent to the Council of Europe offer bribes to those lawyers.

Expert Elchin Gambarov, Secretary of the Civil Unity party, says that personal relationships and political interests are clearly seen in the issue of political prisoners. Lawyer Saida Gojamanli says that she personally tries to restore justice. She said intentional campaigns are conducted against them trying to damage the legal movement. But Gojamanli notes that as long as there are political prisoners in Azerbaijan and human rights are violated, lawyers will work to prevent such cases.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

Will Taxes Be Deducted From Mosques' Revenues?
There are some 1.000 registered mosques and religious communities in Azerbaijan. The number of pilgrimages is over 400 out of which 50 are functioning. The State Committee for Religious Affairs was established last year to regulate the activity of religious structures. According to religious figures, no remarkable work has been done to this end yet. But the chairman of the committee Rafig Aliyev has recently issued a statement, which caused concern in society. Rafig Aliyev stated that mosques and religious structures will be registered in near future as legal entities and taxes will be imposed on their revenues. Professor Aliyev said that it will contribute to transparency of the activity of mosques, temples and pilgrimages.

First deputy chairman of the Board of the Caucasian Moslems Haji Salman told the agency Turan that mosques are non-commercial structures. Imposition of taxes on such structures is impossible under Article 106 of the Tax Code. Haji Salman also added that deduction of taxes from donations is not logical. According to him, such steps can give rise to discontent among believers.

Seyid Muhammad Rza from the Juma mosque told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that their revenues make only $100 a month and deducting taxes from the sum is not logical.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

The newspaper "Ekho" carries major information about the Azerbaijani delegation's remarks to the Council of Europe. The newspaper reports that Ilham Aliyev and Samad Seidov spoke on behalf of the Azerbaijani side. Ilham Aliyev said that Azerbaijan is carrying out all its commitments. But for some reason, PACE mainly discussed the issue of political prisoners. It is pointed out in the article that the deputies did not punish Azerbaijan. On the contrary, they try to settle problems only and the talks will continue now.

Leader of the Southern Azerbaijan National Liberation Movement Doctor Mahmudeli Chohragani in an interview with the newspaper "525" expressed his opinions regarding the non-existence of Azerbaijan's consulate in Tebriz. According to him, the Azerbaijani government should answer this question. Some 10 years ago, there was reached an agreement on opening an Azerbaijani consulate in Tebriz. Under the agreement, Iran was to open a consulate in Nakhchivan, and Azerbaijan one in Tebriz. There is currently an Iranian consulate in Nakhchivan, but none in Tebriz because some people do not want the Azerbaijani flag to be hoisted in Tebriz. According to Chohragani, the Azerbaijani government should exert pressure on the opposite side to this end.

According to the newspaper "525," expert Nasib Nasibli says that oil policy made Western countries interested in establishing stability in Azerbaijan. He said not everything can be connected with oil from the geopolitical standpoint. The oil policy did not contribute to a solution of the Karabakh problem. Nasibzade noted that Azerbaijan has signed 21 agreements since gaining its independence but some of the agreements failed in a later development. The country is also facing the problem connected with the oil revenues.

Rauf Arifoglu writes in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that Ilham Aliev's speech in the Council of Europe in English, his repeating the same expression, some other deputies' supporting Azerbaijan could not save Azerbaijan from the situation. Arifoglu wrote that a score of serious defeat was given to Ilham Aliev's activity in the Council of Europe. Arifoglu writes that the situation can be considered an extremely serious loss for official policy and propaganda. Because the process of bringing the president's son into big-time policics was mainly built on sport and his activity in the Council of Europe. Now one of these factors has been cancelled. From now on, it will be difficult to progress only with sport. In the conclusion, the author argues that the prestige of any government not supported by the people will be low in the eyes of international organisations. But the continuation of such an approach and its role in shaping international opinion against Azerbaijan in discussion of the Karabakh issue is very dangerous.

Aligismet Badalov in an article entitled "Whom does Ilyas Ismailov defend?" carried by the newspaper "Azerbaijan" wonders why the Adalat party chairman Ilyas Ismailov calls Alikram Humbatov a political prisoner. According to the author, it comes out from the Adalat party chairman's statement that if the representatives of every ethnic group living in our country declare a separate state it would not be a crime.

Israyil Musayev writes in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that recruiting the press is a small model of cheating democracy. The Law on the Press as well as relevant decrees were delayed and adopted after defeating press. Then they immediately yielded fruits. According to the author, H. Aliyev was named "journalists' friend". Who were the electors and whom should they elect? The author claims that the president intends to be elected this way. According to the author, the presidential elections will be a major model of cheating democracy. The author compares the propaganda opportunities of Ilham Aliyev and the opposition noting that the opposition has neither TV company nor radio or money.

Ganimet Zahidov in a commentary carried by the newspaper "Azadlig" writes that some young members and functionaries of opposition parties who have long suffered from unemployment and prosecution are now being bought for dollars. Well- to- do men fighting for the government have launched a major campaign to recruit people for money. The author also writes that the partners to such half-secret talks are secretly engaged with trading of government.

Leyla Amirova in the newspaper "Nedelya" refers to the Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliev's visit to Russia noting that some 7 documents will be signed in Moscow. The majority of these documents are economic. According to the author, the rapprochement in the Russian-Azerbaijani ties was visible during the Russian President Putin's visit to Azerbaijan last year. No concrete documents were signed then and there were only held talks for peace and cooperation between the two states. Even though one year has elapsed since then, the rapprochement has not yielded any positive results. The author notes that the issues regarding the Gabala radar station and the Caspian status have not been resolved yet. According to the author, each president has his own arguments. The Azerbaijani president makes concessions with regard to Gabala RLS. Will the Russian president make concessions on the status of Azerbaijanis?

Kamal in a commentary "Peaceful struggle and withdrawal of the dictator" carried by the newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that Aliev's remaining in power does not mean that he is as powerful as before. He has retreated to a greater extent. The decree on press also marked a victory for Aliev.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)