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Azerbaijan Report: October 22, 2002

22 October 2002
Roundtable Attacks Draft Law on Public TV
On 17 October the opposition newspapers "Yeni Musavat" and "Hurriyyet" held a roundtable discussion on the draft law on public television, which is now being discussed in parliament. Reshid Hajili, a legal expert at the local office of Internews -- a USAID-funded organization that provides support to independent television stations -- said during the meeting that if public television is established on the basis of the proposed draft, it will in fact lead to the creation of another state-directed television because the director and executive leadership of the public channel would be appointed by the president.

Hajili pointed out that since the public television council is not a part of the executive branch, the president does not have a constitutional mandate to make such appointments. While the government and some members of parliament claim that the Council of Europe (CE) has approved the draft, the government has not made the council's opinions public. He added that the government doesn't have a clear idea how it will create public television. Sometimes it proposes replacing the existing state television with it, and other times it offers to create a new TV channel.

But according to Arif Aliev, the chairman of the New Generation Journalists' Union, the Azerbaijani government and CE experts have agreed to eliminate state television and create a public television channel in its place. Once the law is ratified, the president will sign a corresponding decree. But a public television established in such a way would not differ much from state television, he added. The fact that the president is keeping open the opportunity to exert his influence on the channel is grounds to suppose that, in the end, it will become a government propaganda machine.

Although no government representatives participated in the roundtable, Seyyad Arran, a deputy from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, disagreed with the opinions voiced during the meeting. He argued that the president's appointment of the director and council of the station would not affect its independence.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Local Groups Complain President's Pardon Doesn't Go Far Enough
On 18 October President Heidar Aliyev pardoned 79 prisoners on the occasion of State Independence Day. Nevertheless, a number of local human rights organizations are not satisfied with the list of those pardoned.

Chingiz Ganizade, chairman of the nongovernmental Committee for Democracy and Human Rights, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that of the 79 released men, only 39 were arrested for their political activities, while 22 of them were members or supporters of (the now defunct) OMON (a special militia), who mutinied against the government in March 1995.

The president pardoned 12 prisoners who were members of an illegal militia in the cities of Ganja and Mingechevir. They had been convicted of an attempted coup d'etat in October 1994. Five others freed were members of illegal groups that committed crimes in October 1993 and August 1994 in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. Nevertheless, more than 180 political prisoners are continuing to serve their term of imprisonment, Ganizade added.

According to Saida Gojamanli, the chairman of the Human Rights and Legislation Protection Committee, the government remains reluctant to release its "personal enemies." She added that international pressure on the government would increase after this.

Gabil Rzaev, the head of the Committee for Protection of OMON Members' Rights, told RFE/RL that to date the government has pardoned and released more than 90 members of the former police group and 132 military men and civilians who supported OMON during the incident against the government. But 95 OMON members and 133 of the group's supporters remain in prison, and most of them suffer from serious illnesses.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Human rights activist Murad Sadeddinov in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service said a propos of the 18 October pardon decree, that to date only 300 of 716 political prisoners have been released.

An article headlined "After Heidar Aliev's return to power, state-religion relations entered a new stage," in the pro-governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" says that Azerbaijan will henceforth continue to contribute to the strengthening of relations between different religions and cultures around the world.

The Azerbaijani media also commented on the recent statement by Armenian President Robert Kocherian, that "the Azerbaijani government knows it will not be able to change the results of the war, and it must therefore make concessions." The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" asks how much longer the Azerbaijani government will put up with such pre-election statements.

Kerbalai Rovshen, deputy chairman of the Islamic Party, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," talked about the opposition protests. According to Rovshen, until the present government changes, it will not be possible to form a government through fair and democratic elections.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Khalg" in the article "New brawl in the opposition camp" writes that "large" parties want to absorb "small" ones.

The independent newspaper "Tezadlar" reports on the meeting of the Baku Chief Police Department, which was devoted to the results of the first nine months of the year. According to the police report, in comparison with the same period in 2001 the number of crimes dropped from 3,335 to 3,306.

Parliament deputy Melahet Hesanova, a member of the State Commission on Amnesty, said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that during the preparation of the pardon decree the commission followed the principles of rule of law and humanism. Hesanova added that all presidential pardons have earned substantial recognition by international organizations, including the Council of Europe.

Gabil Abbasoglu in an article entitled "The great pardon" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" says that President Aliyev intends to announce a general pardon on the occasion of his 80th birthday in May 2003. Abbasoglu writes that there are people in Azerbaijan who have been imprisoned since 1993, when the present president returned to power. These people can not imagine live outside of prison. Now the president wants to return their rights to freedom and show his "humanism." But in truth, the rumors of this pardon are nothing more than political speculation, Abbasoglu concluded.

Vusal Gasimoglu in the article "Shops on Targovi Street pay taxes to Nakhichevan" in the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that the recent presidential decree has enabled the State Oil Company (SOCAR) to buy and sell without permission from the Tax Ministry. That means the opening of a new illegal income channel for the corrupt SOCAR, Gasimoglu notes. Gasimoglu says that while SOCAR is "a state inside the state," it is meaningless to expect the company to contribute normal tax revenues to the state budget.

The author also claims that some shops on the centrally located Nizami Street pay taxes not to the corresponding tax bodies, but to the budget of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. Mais Seferli, the chairman of the Yurtdash (Compatriot) Party, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" that it is time for the opposition to create a united election block. The present cohesion among the opposition parties is a significant event, and national-democratic forces must continue their common activities. Therefore, it would better if the opposition parties form a united election block, Seferli said. He also noted since the government is going into the election with a single candidate, it holds an advantage over the opposition. The government has even prepared an election law and presented it to international organizations. Therefore, the parties of the national-democratic camp must prepare an alternative election law before uniting around an election block, Seferli concluded.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)