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Civil Liberties

International organizations have long taken issue with Azerbaijan’s record on such basic rights as freedom of expression and assembly. When the country joined the Council of Europe in 2001, however, expectations rose that that record would change. Pro-government parties maintain that, under the more liberal leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, it has. The March 2005 murder of magazine editor Elmar Huseynov, a journalist critical of both government and opposition, however, has brought the issue to the forefront once again.

Pro-Government: Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP):

The party points to the inclusion of 33 clauses on human rights in Azerbaijan’s 1995 constitution, and the country’s membership in such international agreements as the United Nations’ 1948 Human Rights Convention as proof that Azerbaijan respects civil rights. “Azerbaijan enjoys freedom of expression, the press is free, and there is no state control of the media,” said Mubariz Gurbanly, YAP deputy executive secretary. «Azerbaijan is one of the most liberal countries in respect to migration and immigration issues (freedom of movement).”

In contrast with the position of international organizations, however, Gurbanly argues that Azerbaijan has no political prisoners. “ Some politicians were charged for certain crimes, but none of those had been charged for what they wrote or what they said,” he said. “Nevertheless, the president of Azerbaijan signs pardons that grant freedom to people who are charged with crimes. We are satisfied with the current situation and fully support the current policy [on this issue.]’

Opposition: Azadlig (Freedom) Bloc:

The bloc argues that independent and impartial courts, along with state agencies and a “progressive” parliament that passes democratic legislation, should guarantee civil liberties. “Our goal is to build a state which is not threatening to its people,” said Fakhmin Hajiyev, deputy campaign manager for the Azadlig bloc. Access to public information should be free and unfettered for both media and ordinary citizens. “As one of the political parties suffering from the violation of civil liberties implemented by the current regime, Azadlig is for the provision of all rights and complete implementation of the UN’s human rights convention. “

Opposition: Yeni Siyasat (YeS – New Policy) Bloc:

The party cites the emergence of a “truly independent court system” with professional judges as its priority for the field of civil rights. “The existence of independent courts in the country would help solve the problems of freedom of assembly, media freedom, and the issue of political prisoners,” said Rashid Hajili, YeS campaign manager.

Opposition: Liberal Party of Azerbaijan (LPA):

The party argues that Azerbaijan’s strength depends on the strength of civil liberties. “LPA is for freedom of expression without any limits,” said Liberal Party Deputy Chairman Avaz Temirkhan. To advance freedom of expression, the Liberals advocate a special state program for the development of media that would allocate between half of one percent to one percent of the state budget «for the development of democracy in Azerbaijan.» Based on the 2005 state budget, this would amount to roughly $11.5 million to 23 million. The sum would include state grants and credits for media, non-governmental organizations and financing for political parties. Journalists would receive the opportunity to get state loans for the establishment of media outlets.

Candidate: Nasimi Mammadli, Umid (Hope) Party
Constituency: # 119, Agdam Village
Location: Agdam region, partly under Armenian occupation, on frontline with Nagorno Karabakh

Mammadli says that the first step for resolving civil liberty problems in Azerbaijan is meeting the obligations the country took on when joining the Council of Europe in 2001. “The country’s legislation has to be adjusted to the Council of Europe’s standards and properly integrated within society.” The issue of providing civil liberties in Azerbaijan, Mammadli says, is closely linked with the need for a truly independent court system. “An independent court system will help eliminate such problems as political prisoners, limits on freedom of assembly, corruption, bureaucratic oppression, and so on. It will strengthen a free media and will pave the way for establishing civil society in Azerbaijan. “

Candidate: Rustam Aliyev, New Parliament – New Names Bloc, Owner of FM radio station
Constituency: #55, Khachmaz
Location: Khachmaz region, North Azerbaijan, along border with Russia

Aliyev also advocates reform of the court system and the establishment of an independent judiciary to help “solve lots of problems with civil liberties,” but argues that respect for citizens’ rights has “visibly improved” within the past three to four years. The registration of non-governmental organizations and political parties has become easier, he says. “There is no censorship in the country and I can tell you that print media is totally free now. The level of independence of print media in Azerbaijan is rising,” Aliyev, owner of a private FM radio station, says. “Some problems still exist with television and radio, but I hope they will be solved step-by-step. It is important to have free electronic media in Azerbaijan for the development of civil society.”

Candidate: Ayten Shirinova, Independent
Constituency: # 29, Sabail
Location: Downtown Baku

“The government must be responsible for the destiny of its people and for all processes going on in society,” says Shirinova. “As we still have to realize certain reforms for the establishment of a democratic culture in Azerbaijan, there is a lot of room for development in this direction.”

Candidate: Chingiz Mammadov, Independent
Constituency: # 38, Nizami 2nd
Location: Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city (pop: 330,000)

“Azerbaijan needs to provide for the equal rights of all people, regardless of the official position they occupy or their social status. The law and its requirements have to be equal for all citizens,” says Mammadov. “The way to such equality lies in free and fair elections in November 2005. . . .Only MPs elected through fair elections can protect the rule of law and civil liberties.”

AZERBAIJAN: ELECTIONS 2005 is a production of EurasiaNet.org with funding provided by the Open Society Institute.
Copyright © 2005 EurasiaNet.org.