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Azerbaijan Report: June 28, 2002

28 June 2002

In a feature on the Karabakh peace process broadcast on 27 June, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service incorrectly attributed to Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian a statement that "the negotiating process has reached a point where the Karabakh conflict can be considered resolved once a solution is found to the problems of corridors." That statement was made by a senior official close to the negotiating process.
Former Interior Minister's Case Highlighted
On 25 June a number of committees and lawyers representing former interior minister and head of the National Democratic Party (MDY) Iskander Hamidov held a common meeting in the Baku Press Club. According to Chingiz Aliev, the head of the committee for the protection of Iskander Hamidov's rights, the main reason for the meeting was to make the public aware of violations of the law in Hamidov's case.

Hamidov was arrested in 1995 and charged with abuse of power and misappropriation of government assets. His case has attracted the attention of human rights organizations, and the Council of Europe has appealed to the government for a retrial.

During the meeting, a number of issues were discussed, such as the court's refusal to meet with Hamidov before or after the trial, the higher court's refusal to take into account the appeals raised by Hamidov's lawyers, and difficulties Hamidov had receiving parcels while in prison.

His lawyer, Yaver Husseinli, pointed out that on 6 February, the higher court accepted the appeal made by Hamidov's lawyers together with one made by the Attorney General. But afterward, the court reversed its decision at the request of an unknown individual, understood to be someone within the ruling circle. Although Hamidov's lawyers have appealed to the court to explain the reasons for the change of decision, they have received no response.

"The changes in the court's decision have been made at someone's demand," Husseinli said and added that even the judges acknowledged that fact after the trial. Another point that concerns human rights activists is the postponement of the trial. Huseinli said the delay was illegal but predictable. In fact the government, which has to fulfill its obligations regarding the trials of political prisoners now that the country is a member of the Council of Europe, wants to know that organization's reaction to the event.

Huseinli also pointed out that three of the four criminal charges against Hamidov were baseless, and that he has already been in prison for seven years awaiting trial. But the court is being forced by someone to again accuse him of the same charges. Hamidov should be given defendant status, Huseinli said, which means the court must assume he is innocent until proven guilty. According to the law, if the higher court accepts the appeal, the ruling of the lower court becomes invalid.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Proposed Constitutional Amendments Discussed
On 27 June the opposition newspapers "Yeni Musavat" and "Hurriyyet" held a round-table discussion on the proposed changes to the Constitution, with the participation of representatives of political parties, experts, lawyers and opposition parliament deputies. The editor-in-chief of opposition paper "Yeni Musavat," Arif Raufoglu, opened the discussion and pointed that President Heydar Aliyev appealed to the Constitutional Court for permission to hold a referendum on amendments to the Constitution only after the opposition's efforts to call for the president's removal. According to Raufoglu, the 24 August referendum will also be a public test for Aliyev on the threshold of the next presidential elections.

Deputy Jemil Hasanli from the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan People's Front Party (AXCP) claims that Aliyev chose the right time for the constitutional changes, as at the moment the opposition is weak. Spring and autumn have been the most successful periods for opposition protest actions. But political activities are generally suspended during the summer months. The amendment proposal is more political than legal in character, Hasanli says, adding that the main question concerns the essence of the proposed changes. As the amendments do not conflict with international practice, it is difficult to assert that the changes are unfair. For example the proposal to change from a mixed proportional-majority system to a simple majority system for electing MPs, which is a system that exists in some democratic states.

Lawyer Isakhan Ashurov in his turn spoke about the legal aspects of the issue. He pointed out that the Constitution was inadequate from the beginning and should be changed entirely. Article 3 doesn't work at all, Ashurov said. That is the chapter on human rights and freedoms.

Penah Huseinov, the head of Azerbaijan People's Party (AXP) pointed out in his speech that from a political point of view, the constitutional changes serve President Aliev's power strategy, simplifying the transfer of power to his son, SOCAR vice president and head of the Olympic Committee Ilham Aliev. Another reason Aliyev is trying to push through the changes is to create a single-party system in Azerbaijan, and the opposition must oppose it, Huseinov said. In addition, the president is trying to divert the public's attention from the next presidential elections. Another participant, Deputy Igbal Agazade, alleges that by transferring the speaker's duties to the prime minister, the president is attempting to realize his "successor plan."

Agazade predicts that Ilham Aliyev will take up the parliament speaker's post. If the changes to the Constitution are approved, the president will de facto relieve his son of the responsibility of succeeding him, should he step down in office. The change in the Constitution to reassign the successor from the speaker to the prime minister is aimed at forming a more democratic government. Agazade concludes that the president's proposal is an optimal variant to solve the "successor problem."

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

Law On Public Television Passed In First Reading
On 26 June parliament approved in its first reading the long-expected law on public television. According to Deputy Rizvan Jebiev, the author of the law, the primary role of public broadcasting is to aid in the formation of social opinion, to directly involve all citizens in internal processes, to assure freedom of speech and to treat viewers not as an audience, but as citizens whose rights are the same as those of public television.

The independent newspaper "525," the non-governmental organization Internews and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan People's Front Party (AXCP) prepared several laws and these proposals were used in the preparation of the legislation introduced in parliament, Jebiev said.

In addition the practice of such countries as Great Britain, Germany and France was also taken into account. The proposed legislation consists of five chapters and 27 articles. The Azerbaijan State Broadcasting Company is to implement that legislation. But because of the difficult social condition in the republic, the state is to finance public television. The law also stipulates that the president appoints the head of the public channel.

Observes have charged that the new law stirs up contention, diminishes the essence of the public broadcasting and subordinates it to the state's control. Zeinal Memmedli from "Internews" said that the law does not give public television sufficient independence. To rectify this the people should to create and finance public TV.

But society is not yet ready for that. It is impossible to tell whether the Council of Europe will give its full support to the legislation. However the council does not oppose the stipulation that the president appoints the head of the station. Given the media situation in Azerbaijan, such a stipulation casts a shadow on public television's mission, Memmedli said. The proposed law will come up again for its second reading in the fall session of parliament.

(Zerkhanim Ehmedli)

The pro-governmental newspapers "Azerbaycan" and "Khalg" write about the results of President Heydar Aliev's visit to Turkey and the speeches and press conference held by the Azerbaijani delegation to the summer session of the Council of Europe's Parliament Assembly (PACE).

The independent newspaper "Echo" citing the Turan News agency writes that the vice-president of SOCAR, Ilham Aliev, is not aware of his father's plan to appoint him prime minister.

The same paper comments on former Armenian president Leon Ter Petrosian's return to politics. According to the paper, several opposition parties and politicians support him.

The independent newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that Terry David, a MP from Great Britain, has been appointed the reporter on Karabakh issues for PACE.

In an article entitled "Integration into the world economic system demands high-profile specialists" current economic figures comment on Azerbaijan's level of preparedness.

The independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" comments on the indifferent attitude of the head of Agdam Executive Committee to the problems of refugees and displaced persons from Agdam.

Metanet Muslumgizi, in an article entitled "Why Heydar Aliyev fails to meet with Nardaran's inhabitants" carried in the 28 June issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," writes that President Heydar Aliyev claims he is aware of everything taking place in the state. So he must know that blood has been shed and some people were killed in Nardaran. The president has not reacted to the incidents that took place in Sheki and Baku last year and in Nardaran, or when he does react he is not in earnest about it. According to Muslumgizi, Aliyev does not want to listen to people who oppose him, and that is his greatest fault. The author also claims that TV presenters of Azerbaijan State Broadcasting Company are tired of reading letters praising the president. "I have long tried to hear something about Nardaran's incidents but could not," Muslumgizi writes. The author concludes that the state TV is only for praising the president.

Aziz, in an article entitled "The destructive opposition tries to win political scores" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Khalg," points out that the opposition, which has lost its support base inside the republic, is facing collapse. According to the author, the main aspiration of the opposition is not the settlement of the Karabakh dispute but deriving some benefit from conflicts within the peace process. Therefore, it opposed discussions on that issue and attempts to blacken the government's peace efforts. Aziz concludes that the people are already aware that the opposition is taking an anti-national position. In addition, the opposition is ready for the next political adventure and these acts are treasonous. So that naturally explains why the opposition has lost the people's trust and its support base.

Constitutional Court Judge Isa Nejefov in the independent newspaper "525" comments on the president's proposed amendments to the Constitution and points that there are legal, economic and social reasons for them. If those changes were not made, society could fall behind in its development. Regarding the elimination of the mixed proportional-majority election system, the author says that economic life has undergone changes. In other word the ruling parties or persons working in the ruling circles are able to abuse their positions and create party organizations within enterprises. That constitutes a breach of human rights, and nobody is able to oppose it. The elimination of the proportional system can remove such an imperfection and ensure transparent elections and correct implementation of the election law.

Azer Huseinbala in the article "Murtuz Aleskerov's plans" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" also comments on the constitutional changes and posits that the struggle within the government is escalating. According to Huseinbala, Murtuz Aleskerov, the speaker of the parliament, is keeping silent. He has not expressed his opinion on the amendments to the Constitution. The author states that the expected constitutional changes also dash the opposition's hopes for the post-Aliyev period. But at the same time Aleskerov is the greatest loser in this case. In the near future the internal struggle inside the leadership will escalate, Huseinbala predicts. According to reliable sources, some political forces are taking part in secret and serious activities because of the proposed constitutional changes, and Aleskerov is involved in that process. Huseinbala says that Aleskerov's supporters maintain close contacts with opposition activists and are holding serious consultations in order to block the president's plans. Thus, as the referendum date approches, disputes within the circle of power will increase, Huseinbala concludes.

Vugar Bairamov in a commentary entitled "Both sides of the coin" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that President Aliyev is worried about losing power and is trying to prevent that happening. The author writes that the president relies on the prime minister more than on the speaker of parliament. The point is that the speaker is not able to make decisions alone -- he must have parliament's permission. But the prime minister can make decisions alone, he does not rely on approval from the Cabinet. In other words the process of power transfer is simpler.

Ali Ahmedov, executive secretary of the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) in his interview with the pro-government "Yeni Azerbaycan" paper speaks about measures taken in connection with the referendum. According to Ahmedov, one of the most important measures is to explain to the people the essence of the proposed constitutional amendments. Ahmedov also points out that the opposition parties are now trying to distort the importance of the president's proposals.

(Compiled and edited by Etibar Rasulov)