TODAY.AZ / Politics

Azerbaijan: Summary of Amnesty International's Concerns

08 October 2006 [02:53] - TODAY.AZ
This country entry has been extracted from a forthcoming Amnesty International (AI) report, Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's Concerns in the Region: January - June 2006 to be issued later in 2006.

On 25 January the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Resolution 1480 laid out five areas requiring improvement in the repeat elections scheduled for 13 May in 10 constituencies where results of the 6 November 2005 parliamentary election had been annulled on account of fraud. In the elections eight seats were won by the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party or nominally 'independent' candidates affiliated to it; turnout was reported to be low at 36 per cent.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that while the repeat elections had indicated progress in some areas, including a more inclusive representation of candidates, unimpeded campaigning and increased domestic observation, continued interference from local authorities in the electoral process was still in evidence. On 26 January PACE adopted Resolution 1505, in which it was noted that while progress in the conduct of voting was observed, control over and interference in the electoral process by third parties, including local government bodies, remained a source of concern.

Some human rights activists who participated in protests following the October 2003 presidential election and have been charged with public disorder offences continued to live in exile in neighbouring states. Following a request for extradition from the Azerbaijani government Azer Samedov, director of the Caucasus Centre of Freedom of Faith and Conscience, applied for political asylum in Georgia (see AI Index: EUR 56/006/2006). His case was still outstanding at the end of the period under review.

Freedom of expression in Azerbaijan became an increasing source of concern during the period under review, with a sharp increase in violent attacks and intimidation aimed at opposition and independent journalists. On 6 March a correspondent for the opposition newspaper Azadlyq, Fikret Huseynli, was abducted, beaten and left for dead on the outskirts of Baku. He was allegedly tied up, had his fingers broken and was stabbed in the neck. On 18 May Bahaddin Haziyev, editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Bizim Yol, was abducted by unidentified assailants and taken to a remote location in the outskirts of Baku. He was threatened and verbally abused, then his assailants ran a car over his legs. Bahaddin Haziyev was later hospitalized with serious injuries including a broken left leg. Articles alleging corruption in the oil and fishing industries had featured in Bizim Yol the day before the attack; the newspaper had also run a series of articles on corruption in the preceding weeks. The newspaper's office and other staff had also received threatening phone calls in the preceding period. Bizim Yol's website was also the target of frequent external disabling, which the newspaper lacked the financial and technical support to counteract. According to journalists and human rights activists no serious investigation of these crimes had been undertaken by the end of the period under review. Similarly, the murder of independent journalist Elmar Huseynov, killed in March 2005, remained unpunished.

On 23 June Sakit Mirza Zakhidov, a well-known journalist and satirist for Azadlyq, was arrested by Interior Ministry personnel belonging to its anti-narcotics department (see AI Index: EUR 55/003/2006). A statement issued by the Ministry alleged that 10 grams of heroin had been found on Sakit Zakhidov's person and confiscated following his arrest. His lawyer, Elchin Gambarov, was only given access to Sakit Mirza Zakhidov on 29 June. According to his lawyer, Sakit Mirza Zakhidov was forced into the back of a Jeep where he was pinned down and a packet of narcotics inserted into his pocket. Sakit Mirza Zakhidov was still being held in pre-trial detention at the end of the period under review.

In February an activist of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP) was sentenced to two years' imprisonment on charges of narcotics possession that ADP leaders and human rights activists claimed were false. Opposition parties also alleged that some seven activists arrested before and after the November 2005 poll continued to be held in pre-trial detention.

The trial of three members of the Yeni Fikir (New Idea' youth movement arrested in August and September 2005 began on 31 March at the Court of Grave Crimes in Baku. Ruslan Bashirli, Said Nuri and RaminTagiyev were accused of actions aimed at the violent overthrow of the Azerbaijani government (Article 278 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code) and in a second charge, of illegal entrepreneurship (Article 192). The prosecution alleged that Yeni Fikir members had participated in seminars organized by the National Democratic Institute, where strategies for regime change were allegedly discussed, and also met with Armenian secret service agents in Tbilisi and received money from them in order to finance a coup d'etat. The accused admitted that a meeting had taken place in Tbilisi, but said that they believed they were meeting with Georgian civil society activists and the money received from them to be intended for democratization activities in Azerbaijan.

The second charge of illegal entrepreneurship was linked to accusations of receipt by Yeni Fikir of a substantial payment from an unspecified Western embassy in Bake; this charge was later dropped in the apparent absence of substantiating evidence. The trial was initially closed to journalists and human rights activists but access was later granted in April following pressure from the international community. Only witnesses for the prosecution were brought, and in contravention of Azerbaijani law, no jury was appointed as required in cases of crimes punishable by life imprisonment. After the defendants refused to appoint lawyers in order to conduct their own defence, the court appointed lawyers to represent them. These lawyers were allegedly not familiar with the materials of the case, to the extent of reportedly not knowing their clients' names.

Among the evidence brought by the prosecution at the trial was video footage of Ruslan Bashirli, head of Yeni Fikir, meeting Georgian citizens in Tbilisi and allegedly receiving money from them. The defence lawyer later appointed by the Yeni Fikir members, Osman Kazimov, claimed this video footage had been cut up to 24 times in order to distort Ruslan Bashirli's words in such a way as to incriminate him with collaboration with Armenian secret service agents. According to reports, Ruslan Bashirli continued to suffer from medical problems associated with concussion sustained since his arrest and with a kidney problem pre-dating it. He reportedly lost consciousness while under interrogation on 2 March; in June he allegedly received medical treatment for both problems. Allegations that he had been tortured following his arrest in August 2005 remained without investigation. Another member of Yeni Fikir, Said Nun', was released on bail but not allowed to leave Baku. This prevented him from receiving treatment for a thalassaemia condition; he was also allegedly refused certified evidence of his condition in order to receive treatment in the Russian Federation. The trial was still underway at the end of the period under review.

Former ministers All Insanov and Farhad Aliyev, arrested in October 2005, remained in pre-trial detention; Farhad Aliyev's deteriorating health and the reported refusal of the authorities to allow him access to specialized medical care continued to be a source of concern. Natiq Efendiyev, a deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan arrested in October 2005, remained in pre-trial detention. Allegations that he had been tortured in November 2005 remained without investigation. Another opposition party activist, Qadir Musayev, the director of the Azerbaijan National Democratic Party's local chapter in the southern region of Bilasuvar, was sentenced on 2 May to seven years' imprisonment on charges of distributing narcotics. Human rights activists believed narcotics had been planted on Qadir Musayev in order to incriminate him.

In defiance of its obligations as a Council of Europe member, Azerbaijan had still failed to adopt a law on an alternative civilian service to military service during the period under review. On 28 April a Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector was arrested for draft evasion, despite his stated willingness to perform alternative service (see AI Index: EUR 55/001/2006). He also referred to a constitutional amendment introduced in August 2002 affirming the right to alternative service for all those whose convictions or beliefs prevent them from taking up arms. He was released by a court decision on 26 May and kept under house arrest until his trial began on 30 June.

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