July 28, 2006, Volume 6, Number 11
FORMER POLICE OFFICIAL CONFESSES TO JOURNALIST'S MURDERBy Liz Fuller
Haci Mammadov, former head of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry, confessed on July 25 to having killed opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov last year at the behest of then Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev. Huseynov, editor of the journal "Monitor" that systematically investigated alleged corruption, was gunned down outside his apartment on March 2, 2005. Days later, police arrested some 20 members of a gang reportedly led by Mammadov whose members are currently on trial for several high-profile killings and abductions committed over a period of 10 years.
Aliyev was dismissed from his post in October 2005 and arrested on charges of embezzlement and plotting a coup against the Azerbaijani leadership, charges he has steadfastly denied.
On July 26, Aliyev issued a statement to the Azerbaijani people, posted on day.az, in which he again asserted his innocence. Aliyev also said in that statement that he was recently warned that he would be charged with Huseynov's murder unless he agreed to plead guilty to the coup charge.
The preliminary hearings in the trial of Mammadov and 26 others accused with him opened in Baku's Court for Grave Crimes in early July. Lawyers for several of the accused demanded that the pretrial investigations be reopened, claiming that in some cases no evidence was available to substantiate charges.
For example, Nishad Ismailov is charged with having committed a murder in Azerbaijan, although he can prove he was in Moscow at the time of the killing, according to the online daily zerkalo.az on July 7. Requests by several defendants to summon senior officials to give evidence, including Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov and Interior Minister Colonel General Ramil Usubov, were denied.
Testifying on July 25, Mammadov admitted to six murders, including those of a fellow Interior Ministry official, Azer Ismaylov, and of Huseynov. He added that then Economic Development Minister Aliyev ordered Huseynov's murder, but did not provide any further details, and the presiding judge adjourned the session immediately after that revelation. During his pretrial testimony, Mammadov said he was approached with a contract to kill Huseynov, but that he personally did not commit the murder.
In an analysis of the implications of Mammadov's claim of responsibility for Huseynov's murder published on July 26, the online daily zerkalo.az recalled that Turkish investigators asked by the Azerbaijani authorities last year to assist in the investigation of that killing raised the possibility that Mammadov was responsible, but the Azerbaijani authorities discounted that possibility.
Several suspects in Huseynov's killing have been named, but none apprehended. Zerkalo.az further suggested that Mammadov in fact had nothing to do with Huseynov's killing, but for reasons unclear agreed to shoulder responsibility for it.
Elton Guliyev, Aliyev's lawyer, dismissed Mammadov's allegation outright, and reaffirmed that during the nine months Aliyev has been held in pretrial detention, investigators have failed to produce a shred of evidence to substantiate the charges against him.
Shahbaz Hudoglu, a close friend of Huseynov, commented to day.az on July 26 that there was no ill-feeling between Huseynov and Aliyev. He said Huseynov considered Aliyev corrupt, although less so than many other government ministers. Hudoglu added that Huseynov gave Aliyev credit for being one of very few senior government officials to invest in the Azerbaijani economy.
Mammadov's sensational claim of responsibility for Huseynov's murder is likely to revive speculation, first expressed in January this year by a former police colonel dismissed from the Interior Ministry in 2001, about how his gang could have operated undetected over a period of 10 years without his superiors, including Usubov, suspecting anything. (Originally published on July 26.)
RIGHTS ACTIVIST WORRIED BY JOURNALIST'S DETENTIONBy Bruce Pannier
Tajigul Begmedova is the chairwoman of the Bulgaria-based Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Forced to leave Turkmenistan in March 2002, the Turkmen authorities have harassed her relatives since she left. Begmedova visited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headquarters in Prague today and expressed great concern with the fate of some activists and an RFE/RL journalist that are currently being detained by the government.
While at RFE/RL headquarters, Begmedova touched on an issue that is close to the organization: the current detention of RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova. "Ogulsapar Muradova, I think, is a very strong and capable person who chose to work in the difficult conditions of Turkmenistan -- and there are such people in Turkmenistan," she said.
Muradova was detained on June 18, part of series of detentions Turkmen authorities made that also netted rights activists Annagurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev. Muradova's children were detained one week later but released at the start of July. Muradova still has not been charged with committing any offense but state media in Turkmenistan has said she passed along "slanderous information" in her reporting about social conditions in the country.
Muradova's case has received the attention of international rights organizations that have released a number of statements and appeals on behalf of Muradova and the others detained.
Begmedova credits Muradova with providing an example to the people of Turkmenistan, adding that "this is a [positive] step because other people are also starting to raise their heads."
But Begmedova expressed some concern for Muradova and the others, saying that once Turkmen authorities detain a person, pressure is put on the detainee. "In Turkmenistan we are all witnesses to the fact that the Turkmen regime -- as soon as it detains someone -- can force them to sign confessions and such a show or scenario has happened more than once," Begmedova said.
Begmedova noted a positive development in the Muradova case, in that when Muradova's children were being held they were reportedly shown mercy not usually given to those detained in Turkmenistan. "There are reports that [detention officials] even helped [Muradova's children]," she said. "Even inside the holding area they helped them and what is especially interesting is that their guards [reportedly] told the children to speak up if they needed to use the toilet although [officially] it is allowed [to detainees] to go [to the toilet] only two times."
Another new development that Begmedova mentioned was the ability of her organization to contact the children after they were released.
In another departure from the usual treatment in Turkmenistan, authorities are considering a request from Begmedova's organization and others to provide funding for Muradova's legal defense. "We are working on this right now and hope that it will be decided positively," she said.
Despite some positive signs, Begmedova said the world's craving for energy resources could be putting the defense of human rights on the back burner, as there are already examples of this in Turkmenistan.
"This has happened several times and a vivid example was in 2003 when there was the so-called gas agreement between Russia and Turkmenistan and more than 100,000 Russian citizens living in Turkmenistan were forgotten," Begmedova said. "Also, the attempts to reach a trade agreement that are under way between Europe and Turkmenistan, which rights organizations are condemning -- for example Human Rights Watch -- is another example."
Many of those 100,000 Russians eventually made their way to Russia after Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov unilaterally cancelled a dual citizenship agreement with Russia and ordered his country's citizens to choose which country they would live in. The European Union is currently debating the signing of a trade agreement with Turkmenistan. The potential agreement has divided those who would see the EU promote human rights and those interested in buying oil and gas from resource rich Turkmenistan for use in Europe.
The world's increasing need for energy has led to criticism that many nations are turning a blind eye to rights violations in countries like Turkmenistan, as these countries place a priority on meeting their nations' energy requirements. (Originally published on July 21. See http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/7/31EDF589-6B01-4FA5-BDD2-B70606F3E4BC.html to listen to Tajigul Begmedova's full presentation.)
OSCE MEDIA ENVOY TALKS ABOUT REGION'S CHALLENGESBy Bruce Pannier
Media freedom in Central Asia has long been a thorny problem for Western organizations dealing with the region. The post-Soviet administrations there have proven resistant to allowing the sort of freedoms that would allow for criticism of government policies or officials. That presents a number of challenges for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, Miklos Haraszti, a Hungarian writer, journalist, and human rights defender. Haraszti talked to RFE/RL about the challenges for media in Central Asia and areas where the OSCE has tried to help to improve the media climate.
Haraszti says the media situation in Central Asia is characterized by multiple print and Internet outlets. But, he adds, control over television and other broadcast media remains in a few select hands.
"It is basically a slope of pluralism which is higher in the case of the print press but a bit lower in the case of the broadcast media," Haraszti says. "Pluralism is quite confined in the whole region to the print media and actually toward the Internet, [and among] the different media types that the Internet is hosting. But in the broadcast field -- even in countries where there is privately owned broadcast media, [and] even in countries where there is a kind of a readiness for a transformation of state-owned media into public-service media to be found -- the actual content of broadcast media is quite monopolized and not really covering the whole of political life in a fair and objective fashion."
Haraszti says he sees a discernable trend among Central Asian governments to tighten legislation to keep media outlets silent -- especially independent media outlets that question state policy or official conduct.
"We observe a sadly growing trend of administrative discrimination vis-a-vis the fragile and economically weak independent print media -- different types of new regulations, registration, re-registration regimes, accreditation problems, all of them in the form of a seemingly objective regulatory framework," Haraszti says. "But, in fact, [such measures] somehow always [are] hitting at the independent press and almost never at the official, state-owned press -- which is a form of discrimination."
Haraszti notes that all five Central Asian republics -- all of them OSCE member states -- inherited a Soviet mentality with respect to the media. He says that, as a result, it will be some time before anyone can expect media laws in the region to conform to those in Western democracies. But Haraszti says that-- in keeping with his OSCE mandate -- his office does contact Central Asian authorities to alert them to regulations that contradict those in other parts of the OSCE.
"We have set medium-range goals for media democratization, which we always do," Haraszti says. "So these are decriminalization of all types of punitive laws that penalize speech offenses in a criminal way, [that is, to] criminalize them. We ask all participating states to put all of those offenses into the domain of civil law, [that is] civil court, instead of criminalizing journalists for what they do even if they do it in a way that has to be sanctioned somehow."
Such laws have silenced or jailed journalists in several Central Asian states.
Haraszti says there have been times when it was necessary to stage what he terms an "intervention." He points to Kazakhstan, where the government complained of too many media outlets and introduced amendments that simply made it more difficult for media and journalists.
"They introduced these amendments, and now these amendments are actually making fines higher," Haraszti says. "They reintroduce registration, [or rather] they introduce re-registration, at any given occasion when business data -- like the office address -- has changed in a given outlet. And fees are introduced for registration. And a very important and actually very restrictive provision, [or] draft provision, is that the persons who have worked for any media outlet that has earlier been closed by a court ruling cannot apply to be editors with newly registered media, cannot register a media [outlet]. And that, I think, is something that probably constitutionally is a questionable requirement because it puts another punishment on top of what the courts at that time have ruled."
Haraszti expresses hope that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev might veto the draft law. But earlier this week, Nazarbaev signed the media amendments into law despite objections from rights groups inside and outside Kazakhstan.
Haraszti indicates there are some countries with which the OSCE's level of cooperation is still not good. "I still couldn't visit Uzbekistan," he says. "Otherwise, I was able to visit all other four countries in the region. And I hope very much that the level of cooperation with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan will improve in the future."
Haraszti says that an annual OSCE-sponsored event dedicated to the region's journalists might provide a possible avenue to improving ties with Central Asian states.
"We will be having a Central Asian media gathering in October in Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan, where we will be discussing the sustainability of media -- both privatized and new media start-ups," Haraszti says. "[We will discuss] how to make them compatible with the market [and] how to help their freedom by sane policy of the publisher and of the editor on the market. And we are having a first day of deliberations and a second day of training for the participants. This will be in October in Bishkek. Last year...we had participants from all five [Central Asian states], which was a very happy circumstance, and we hope to repeat it this year."
Haraszti also says he hopes to be making another tour through the region soon. (Originally published on July 7.)