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Azerbaijan Report: May 17, 2002

17 May 2002
Council of Europe Group Visits Azerbaijan But Fails to Meet President
The Council of Europe AGO Monitoring Group led by Pietro Elkoleni left Baku on 16 May after four days in the Azeri capital. The group had planned to meet President Heydar Aliev, among others, but the meeting did not take place. According to some reports, the president refused to meet the delegation. An official statement from the Council of Europe Baku office said the meeting did not take place due to the president's intense work schedule. AGO officials did not brief the media about the meetings they held in Azerbaijan, but reports indicated that the Monitoring Group planned to submit a new list of 13 alleged political prisoners to the Azerbaijani government. According to unconfirmed reports, the document was submitted to state officials. AGO members also met at least three alleged political prisoners: former interior minister Isgandar Hamidov, former defense minister Rahim Gaziev and former tank commander Alikram Humbatov, all of whom were accused of and imprisoned for crimes against the state.

Azerbaijani lawyer Saida Gojamanli says that the Monitoring Group intended to study the problem of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. According to her, the reason for the group's failure to meet the president is the dispute over the existence of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The Council argues that there are political prisoners in the country, while the government rejects that allegation. But Gojamanli says that the government's regularly releasing people whom the Council of Europe regards as political prisoners proves that the Azerbaijani officials accept the existence of such prisoners. Gojamanli said that, in any case, the president should have met the group. She says the president's not receiving them hinders negotiations about the release of political prisoners.

A lawyer who requested anonymity told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that Monitoring Group members have been dissatisfied with Azerbaijani press articles about them. Each time journalists write sensational articles in accordance with their own interests, not covering the whole reality, the lawyer said, prisoners are put into punishment cells. The lawyer said the Monitoring Group did not meet media representatives for precisely this reason this time.

Arzu Abdullayeva, the head of the Azerbaijani mission of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, has also said that the press distorts her standpoint regarding the situation in Azerbaijani prisons. She held a press conference on 15 May blaming the Azerbaijani press for failing to provide detailed information about the Monitoring Group's activity.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Re-Trial of Former Interior Minister Opens
The closed trial of former interior Minister Isgandar Hamidov began on 16 May in Gobustan high-security prison. (The Council of Europe had earlier demanded that the preliminary investigation phase of Hamidov's new trial open on 21 February, but the process did not begin at that time.) Yaver Husseinli, one of Hamidov's lawyers, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that even though it was declared beforehand that the trial would be open, media representatives and legal organizations were not allowed to observe it. According to the lawyer, Judge Rasim Mirzayev left the court when Hamidov's lawyers discussed their demand that the trial be open. Husseinli says that Mirzayev told him that if the lawyers wanted to learn the response to their demands, they could meet him after the trial and obtain the relevant information. Hamidov's other lawyer Vidadi Mahmudov considers the closed trial to be a violation of law that shows disregard for international organizations, including the Council of Europe.

An interesting incident took place during the trial. Hamidov entered the hall with a bunch of flowers and presented it to the judges, saying that he wanted to congratulate the judges for re-trying him after eight years in prison.

As for Hamidov's reported health problems, Husseinli says that at present they are not serious, and warned that unknown persons who might want to kill Hamidov should not make use of his alleged illness.

As for the type of the trial to be held when the session continues on 29 May, Mirzayev said it would be open. Mahmudov claimed that Hamidov's legal team has information that government officials intend to hinder the trial. According to Mahmudov, such acts should be prevented and the trial must be held not in Gobustan but in a Baku court.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Azerbaijani Journalist Denied Visa to Iran
Vusal Taghibeyli, an employee of the independent newspaper "Hafta ichi" ("Weekday"), has told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that his rights were violated by the Iranian embassy in Azerbaijan. According to Taghibeyli, a number of journalists and politicians were invited to Iraq to participate in President Saddam Hussein's birthday celebrations at the end of April. A 10-member delegation of the pro-governmental United Azerbaijan Party led by Kerar Abilov represented Azerbaijan at the celebrations. The delegation wanted to take some journalists and invited Taghibeyli, he said.

The Iraqi embassy said that the delegation would leave for Iraq on 18 April and the embassy would cover all the relevant expenses, but the journalists had to obtain transit visas from the Iranian embassy in Azerbaijan because they would pass through Iranian territory. According to Taghibeyli, an Iranian embassy official called Zohravan said that the journalist was an opponent of Iran, persona non grata, and that it was prohibited for him to pass through Iran. Taghibeyli says that one of his colleagues contacted the Iranian Foreign Ministry through the Internet to say that the embassy did not grant them visas and asked whether it was linked with Taghibeyli's conducting some research connected with Iran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry said that it does not bar journalists based on their research and that journalists are free to express any opinion in their articles. But the ministry also said that granting visas depended on the will of embassy officials.

Taghibeyli says that over the past year, he has studied Iranian intelligence and spying networks in Azerbaijan, as well as the activity of Ahad Gazai, the Iranian ambassador in Azerbaijan, and Ojag Nijat, head of the Cultural Centre. According to Taghibeyli, the Iranian embassy has exerted pressure on his newspaper, with the Iranian ambassador threatening to take "Hafta ichi" to court. The embassy has reportedly demanded that the newspaper stop publishing such articles, otherwise they will appeal to the Azerbaijani president.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

Young Azerbaijanis Interrogated Over Killing of American
The parents of the young people detained in connection with the death of John Alvis, the local head of the International Republican Institute who was killed in November 2000, have told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the probe into Alvis' case has recently intensified. During the initial investigation into the death, pro-governmental media outlets claimed that Alvis sexually harassed children. But in a later development, this story, as well as the case itself, was shelved.

One of the parents, Hurriyye Zeynalova, who lives in Icherisheher (Old City) claimed that when Alvis was killed, her son Zaur was doing his military service. According to Zeynalova, her son completed his 18-month service in February and returned home. Her son was summoned by investigators on 18 April. Zeynalova says that Zaur did not know Alvis nor have any knowledge about him. The only connection between her family and Alvis is that they live in the same street, she said, adding that they do not have any responsibility for the killing.

Another parent, Minakhanim Ahmedova, also appealed to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service with the same complaint. According to her, her younger son Deyanet, who is mentally disabled, was summoned to court beginning 18 April and was exposed to pressure. Ahmadova admitted that Deyanet was summoned for interrogation shortly after the killing, but said her son was released after an initial inquiry. But Deyanet is being interrogated again now, Ahmadova says, claiming that the police are using violence this time. Deyanet's health has suffered, she said, but told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that fear had prompted her to tell the investigator that her son was injured when he fell down a staircase. According to Ahmadova, during the search in her home, police officers confiscated a photo of her elder son with a girl. Ahmadova fears that the police intend to involve her elder son in the case because of the photo.

Vahide Mikayilova, a resident of the Patamdart district of Baku, also complained that the police have used extreme violence against her sons Rasim and Rauf, whom they accuse of killing Alvis. The parents say they have appealed to many sources for help, from foreign diplomatic missions in Baku to state officials. But the interrogators are continuing their investigation. RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service contacted investigator Mustajab Aliev, but Aliyev declined to comment on the case.

(Babek Bekir)

The 17 May issues of Azerbaijani newspapers focus on Heydar Aliev's visit to Iran, which is scheduled for 18 May. The pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" writes that the visit is of major significance.

In an interview published in the 17 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," political scientist Rasim Musabeyov comments on Aliev's upcoming visit to Iran. According to him, the Azerbaijani president's visit to Iran will not yield negative results for Azerbaijan, but Musabeyov says he does not expect positive results either. There are significant issues dividing the two states, he says. He claims that the disputes such as division of the Caspian, Iran's ties with Armenia and the differences in geo-political standpoints are unlikely to bring the two countries closer. But compromises must also be sought, he says.

In a commentary entitled "Is Iran beginning a Caspian war?" in the 17 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Vugar Bayramov writes that the Iranian president has declared he will not recognize bilateral agreements on the Caspian and will resist foreign influence in the region. According to the author, the situation regarding the Caspian is growing complicated. First Iran's government officials and then its president have declared that Iran will not compromise and will fight foreign interference, which shows that the relations among the Caspian littoral states are growing more tense. The author writes that Iran is concerned about the agreements signed by the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan demarcating their sectors of the sea. The author says these countries are to sign similar agreements with Azerbaijan as well. Bayramov concludes that Iran is concerned about the U.S. becoming active in the region. Naturally, when the Iranian president says "foreign interference" he means the U.S., the author claims. But a U.S. official's declaration that "the littoral states must take into consideration the American factor" shows that Washington is also ready to go to war over the issue, Bayramov says, even though it does not say whom it will fight.

In a commentary entitled "Ankara acquires the final say in the Caucasus" carried by the 17 May issue of the independent newspaper "Hurriyyet," an author signing himself only as Rasim writes about Turkey's rising influence in the South Caucasus. According to the author, Ankara has recently become more active in trying to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict of its "closest ally," Azerbaijan. Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem met the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia at a NATO summit in Reykjavik, which could be considered a major step toward this goal. Even though the meeting did not produce a breakthrough on Karabakh, Ankara gained a lot of dividends for itself. Firstly, Ankara's mediation between the two countries could increase its international image, which could later play a significant role in helping Turkey enter the European Union. Also, as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main export pipeline will pass through Turkish territory, it is natural that Ankara is eager to establish military domination in the Caucasus.

In an article entitled "Grant protests rise" carried by the 17 May issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," Metanet Muslumgizi writes that under an amendment to the Law on Grants, grants from foreign donors to Azerbaijani recipients or from entities in Azerbaijan to foreign recipients must be registered with the Ministry for Economic Development. According to the article, NGOs are protesting this proposed amendment and think that the government's main goal is to create obstacles for NGOs.

The 17 May issue of the independent newspaper "Echo" reports that students at the Azerbaijan State Medical University say that the university's proposal to extend medical internships will allow for greater corruption. (Many students say they must pay in order to get an internship.) But university rector Ahliman Amiraslanov told the newspaper that he will make the new system objective. According to Amiaslanov, the current one-year internship does not enable the university to train highly qualified doctors. Therefore, the university has prepared a joint project with the Ministry of Health, which envisages extending the term of internship to two or four years. The rector said that it has previously been impossible to train specialists because the university lacked the technical facilities, but that the university has been establishing clinics for three to four years. Amiraslanov rejects the students' evaluating this system as one form of corruption.

The 17 May issue of the government newspaper "Khalg" carries an article entitled "The development of entrepreneurship strengthens the country's might" which claims that the employees of some tax, customs and law enforcement bodies abuse their positions and conduct groundless investigations. Alakbar Mammadov, the president of the National Confederation of Azerbaijani Entrepreneurs' Organization, gave an interview to the governmental newspaper "Azerbaijan" saying that indifference to the private sector hinders economic development.

The 17 May issue of the independent newspaper "525" carries the article "Mutallibov splits the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Russia." The article reports that a number of organizations have protested against the constituent assembly of The Russian Azerbaijani Countrymen's Union, which has elected Azerbaijan's former President Ayaz Mutallibov its president.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)