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Azerbaijan Report: July 6, 2001

6 July 2001
Harassment Against Journalists Continues
The committee for the human rights of journalists, Ruh, released a report on the media situation in Azerbaijan during the first six months of 2001. The report says the committee has registered 70 violations of the rights of journalists. In the six month period, six journalists were detained without reason and 17 were beaten by police and other officials.

The opposition and independent newspapers "Milletin sesi," "Ulus," "Azadliq," "Shark," "Yeni Zaman," "Yeni Musavat," "Palitra," "Ekho," " Ses," and "Addim" were prosecuted with plaintiffs demanding a total of 310 million manat ($67,099) from them.

The founder of the newspaper "Ulus" was sentenced to 10 days in jail, and the journalists Heidar Oguz and Jasur Mamedov -- from the newspaper "Hurriyyat" -- were given 12-day jail terms. The head of the financial department of the private broadcasting company ABA, Shamil Safiev, has been under arrest for two months. The deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Shahin Jafarli, was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence.

The chairman of Ruh, Aflatun Amashov, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the pressure on the media increases during a political campaign. Although the media situation has been rather stable since February, the harassment of journalists by police continues. During each protest demonstration a number of journalists are regularly harassed by security forces but there are no cases of police being reprimanded for their behavior, Amashov said. (Natig Zeynalov)

Thaw In Azerbaijan-Turkish Relations?
On 5 July, Turkish minister Abdulkhalig Chay began a visit to Azerbaijan. Observers note that there were signs of improving relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey during Chay's most recent visit to Baku.

Economist Vusal Gasimov commented on Baku-Ankara relations in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. He said that tensions in relations between the two countries increased somewhat after a fire in a Ramstore supermarket. Ramstore has invested $50 million in Azerbaijan. At the same time, he thinks that recent moves by Turkey show that Ankara is more interested in improving bilateral relations with Azerbaijan than Baku is.

Political scientist Mubariz Gurbanli also said that Turkey is attempting to restore good relations with Azerbaijan. He appraised the most recent visit by Chay to Baku as a success for Azerbaijani foreign policy. (Zhala Mutallimova)

Azerbaijanis Protest Russian State Duma
The "Azerbaijanists," in a press conference on 4 July, characterized the policy of Western countries towards Azerbaijan as a "double-standard." "The U.S. recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. At the same time, it gives help to the separatist regime of Upper Karabakh," the group said. Azerbaijanists condemned the proposals by independent experts of accommodating NATO forces in Azerbaijan. They also protested against a new law adopted by the Russian State Duma on the process of foreign countries joining the Russian Federation. Vahdat party head Tahir Kerimli said this law could lead to a deterioration in relations between Azerbaijan and Russia. (Zarkhanim Akhmedli)

Founder Of 'Ulus' Paper Assaults Former Employee
Aybeniz Hasanzadeh, a former employee of the newspaper "Ulus," told a press conference on 6 July that she was assaulted by the founder of newspaper, Jagub Abbasov. Although she left work of her own accord on 4 May, Abbasov refused to stamp her workbook and caused other bureaucratic problems for her. Hasanzade said after she published an article titled "Why Did Mahir Samedov Leave 'Ulus?'" in "Khalg gazeti," an organ of the country's President's Office, Abbasov began causing problems for her.

When Hasanzadeh came to the "Ulus" office on 5 July to ask that Abbasov stamp her workbook, he refused to do so and also assaulted Hasanzadeh. Abbasov -- in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service -- denied Hasanzadeh's accusations. (Maarif Chingizoglu)

Visit Of Ago Group To Baku
The monitoring group Ago of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, began a visit to Baku on 5 July to view compliance by Azerbaijan of the commitments it agreed to with the Council of Europe. During a visit to Baku, Ago members met with Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, President Heidar Aliev, and representatives of political parties and NGOs.

The director of the Human Rights Control Bureau, Saida Godjamanli, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the members of AGO focused on the transfer of state television into "public" ownership, human rights, and situation regarding political prisoners. Gojamanli said that Council of Europe representatives expressed worry about the situation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. She reported that in May seven human rights organizations prepared a list of political prisoners that included 213 names and submitted it to the Council of Europe's monitoring group. Based on this list the monitoring group was to prepare a report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan and submit it to the Azerbaijani government on 30 June. But the report was not finished in time because there was so much information on the political prisoners. She said that representatives of the Council of Europe will submit the report by 16 July.

Godjamanli added that incidents of human rights abuses in Azerbaijan have increased since the country joined the Council of Europe. (Maarif Chingizoglu)

Head Of Railroads Holds Press Conference
The head of the Railways Department, Ziya Mamedov, told a press conference at the headquarters of the Yeni Azerbaijan Party on 6 July that during the first six months of 2001, 6.2 million tons of goods were carried by rail, of which most are oil and oil products. Mamedov said that the Railway Department is building a Baki-Boyuk Kasic Yolu at a length of 513 kilometers which is a part of the "Silk Road" project. Implementation of this program requires $36 million, of which $10 million will come from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on credit. Azerbaijan also received $8 million in financial support from the European Union. The rest of the $8 million will be paid with funds from the Railways Department.

Mamedov said that the Azerbaijan Railways Department makes a 14 percent profit. When asked by journalists "why the salary of railway workers is very low and why had they not received their wages for months?" Mamedov said that 31,000 people work for the department, but that there is only work for some 21,000 workers. He added that the average monthly wage of a railway worker is 270,000 manats ($58). (Natig Zeynalov)

Compiled and Translated by Samira Gaziyeva

The "Yeni Musavat" newspaper (opposition) printed a second commentary devoted to Rasul Kuliev's political future. Kuliev, the former speaker of the parliament who is now in exile in New York, will return to Azerbaijan in the autumn, the paper suggests. According to the paper, there are some signs that power will switch from Heidar Aliyev to his "genetic successor," his son Ilham, in the autumn. The paper writes: "Not all groups in the government support Ilham Aliev's candidacy for the presidency. The reluctance of some groups to accept Ilham as a successor to Heidar Aliyev might increase the chances of Rasul Kuliev to succeed [Aliev]. Statements about Kuliev's alleged return to Baku in September have some truth to them. It is possible that Rasul Kuliev's supporters within [in Azerbaijan] anticipate dramatic developments concerning Heidar Aliev's fate."

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" comments on money-laundering issues and the flow of money from Azerbaijan. President Aliyev appealed to members of the "shadow economy" to invest in Azerbaijan and promised that no one will demand from them an explanation of how they have earned their great amounts of money. But, according to the paper, local businessmen are reluctant to make investments in the local economy.

The newspaper "Alternativ," which has close ties to the president's office, expressed a different view on this subject. The paper suggests -- in its comment on the secret accounts of Azerbaijani officials in foreign banks -- that the money they have earned illegally was transferred to foreign banks through foreign mediators. The mediators are usually agents of intelligence services of foreign countries, the paper claimed. Therefore, according to the commentary, Azerbaijani officials with secret bank accounts in foreign countries are easily subject to outside influence. "This creates a danger for Azerbaijan, because the fortune the Azerbaijani officials keep in foreign banks could easily be used for a coup d'etat in our country," the paper suggests.

(Samira Gaziyeva and Mirza Xazar)