SEVERAL ISSUES RELATED TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN AZERBAIJAN DISCUSSED AT UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE

July 22nd, 2009
Discussions regarding the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan have been conducted within the framework of 96th session of Human Rights Committee of the United Nations held in Geneva on 20-21 July.

Representative of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Security Rasul made a speech about problems in several areas of human rights prepared by eight organizations in Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus Network for Human Rights Defenders. He emphasized that the situation of freedom of speech and human rights in Azerbaijan is deteriorating. Talking about the arrest of young bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizade, R.Jafarov emphasized that opposition has not been allowed to hold a rally since 2006. Elmar Huseynov’s murder has not been solved, journalists are arrested under spurious, defamation charges, pressure and harassment are on rise against the journalist and court and Court Law Council are under the influence of the administration, said Jafarov adding that as a result of Azerbaijan authorities, decriminalizing defamation remains unsolved. Amendments and changes made to the Constitution of Azerbaijan Republic, to Law “On Mass Media”, to Law “On TV and Radio Broadcasting”, to Law “On NGOs (public unions and funds) are aimed at restricting the work of civil society. Besides, fair decisions are not adopted in courts when it comes to the cases of mass media representatives and NGO leaders.  Jafarov talked about the court cases of IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov, Institute for Democracy and Peace Chairperson Leyla Yunus and Legal Education Society President Intigam Aliev as an example. The closure of foreign radio stations, discrimination and domestic violence against women were also mentioned in the speech.  Florian Irminger, Head of the Geneva office of the Human Rights House Foundation talked about young bloggers’ arrest and told to the Human Rights Committee, “This very recent event demonstrates the poor reality in Azerbaijan and reflects the situation in the country for human rights defenders and journalists.”

The discussions began with the statement of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Khalaf Khalafov about human rights situation in the country.

 In his speech about freedom of expression, Khalafov stated that mass media obtained more independence through tax reduction, they are given credits and their debts have been erased. Saying that more than 3800 newspapers and journals are published in Azerbaijan, 7 nationwide and 14 regional TV channels and 11 radios operate in the country, Khalafov evaluated the creation of State Council for Assistance to Mass Media and donating of 6180 USD to 38 mass media outlets by the President as positive step. He noted that a Working Group composed of lawyers and public figures work on defamation articles adding that information sent to the Human Rights Committee in connection with pressure against media and journalists is disinformation. According to Khalafov, four journalists were released through the Amnesty Act issued in 2009.

On 21 2009 UN Human Rights Committee’s discussions on the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan continued. First representative board from Azerbaijan answered the questions addressed to them by the Committee members yesterday. Azerbaijan was represented by:

   1. Khalaf Khalafov – Foreign Affars Deputy Minister
   2. Rustam Usubov – Chief Prosecutor’s First Assistant
   3. Oruj Zalov – Internal Affairs Deputy Minister
   4. Togrul Musayev – Justice Ministry Deputy Minister
   5. Sadagat Gahramanova – Deputy Chairperson of the State Committee on Family, Women and Children
   6. Intigam Babayev – Sports and Youth Deputy Minister
   7. Ilgar Rahimov – Social Security of Labor and Population Deputy Minister
   8. Chingiz Asgarov – Presidential Administration Department Head
   9. Mammad Jafarli – National Defense Ministry Department Chief
  10. Elchin Amirbayov – Head of Azerbaijan’s Permanent Agency in UN

Chief Prosecutor’s First Assistant Rustam Usubov did not agree to the charges about the murder of “Monitor” Journal Editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov and said that two people – Khubanov Tahir and Aliyev Teymuraz are accused of murdering the editor-in-chief and an international search warrant has been issued about them. Bayramov Tugay was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in 2005 for giving false information about them and obtaining phone numbers, said Usubov, adding that they have appealed to Georgia law enforcement organs six times to bring them to Azerbaijan, but have not received a positive response.

After the board of representatives, answered the questions, Committee members asked more questions. Most of them asked questions about imprisoned journalists (Mushfig Huseynov, Eynulla Fatullayev and Ganimat Zahid), defamation cases, violence faced by journalists, arrest of Emin MIlli and Adnan Hajizade, the closure of foreign radios, denial to provide detained people with lawyers and freedom of assembly. The discussions that were supposed to be finished at dinner time, continued until 5:00 p.m. after the dinner.

In their answers they stated that the imprisoned journalists have not been arrested for their journalistc activities, but for other crimes; however, four of them were released via the amnesty act.  Justice Deputy Minister said that a working group created of lawyers, judges and public figures is reviewing the Criminal Code and are investigating the issue about the removal of defamation charges under articles 147 and 148. However, he said, most of the public are against decriminalizing defamation. R.Usubov noted that the issues about journalists being pressured are exaggerated in Azerbaijan, and they know about two cases and are investigating them. Akif Nagi was brought to justices for using violence against “Yeni Musavat” newspaper employee, according to him. Another fact about the stabbing of “Azadlig” newspaper employee Agil Khalil (Committee members were especially interested in this issue) was investigated and Sergey Strekalin was found guilty and received punishment.

 

Presidential Administration Department Head Chingiz Asgarov cited statements of the Ministry of Interior and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office and said that Emin MIlli and Adnan Hajizade have been found guilty.  He reminded in his statement about the article not to interfere in Azerbaijan’s internal affairs.  

To a question about the closure of Radio Liberty, VOA and BBC radios’ broadcasts, Khalafov said that the ban has been imposed upon their broadcast via FM frequency, not their broadcasts altogether. “This is required by law and that law was prepared by the Council of Europe Experts and is considered modern. These radios can continue broadcasting via different means.”

The government representatives agreed to the shortage of lawyers in the country, but said that this problem exists in the regions mostly and certain things are being done to fix this problem. However, they noted that there is not any shortage in lawyers to provide detained people immediately. To a question about restricting “freedom of assembly”, Internal Affairs Deputy Minister Oruj Zalov said that there are cases in the Law “On Freedom of Assembly” that restrict this freedom adding that all parties were given conditions to hold mass events and meetings during 2005 parliament elections and 2008 presidential elections.

After the answers were listened to Committee members expressed their opinions on the answers noting that there were contradictions in them. Especially articles 147 and 148 are contradictory to Article 19 of International Pact “On Civil and Political Rights” and that the public is against the removing of defamation is not convincing. During 2008 presidential elections one of the candidates received most of the coverage and no fair information atmosphere was created. OSCE also had the same conclusion. Beating of Agil Khalil before he was stabbed was not clarified and Strekalin was not in fact accepted by Khalil as the criminal who stabbed him. Eventually A,Khalil was forced to leave the country. Then the journalists and bloggers are convicted under hooliganism charges. These all sounded unconvincing and it would be really hard to leave the Committee members content.

Along with abovementioned issues, discussions around the work of NGOs and their funding, independence of courts and judges, the status and work of Law Court Council, Violations in police departments, the rights of local minorities, freedom of conscience, registration of religious communities, alternative military service, sexual minorities were also held between Committee members and Azerbaijan’s Government Representative Group.

At the end of the meeting Khalafov declared the final statement saying that Azerbaijani government’s position in securing human rights is continuous and persistent. According to him, the submission of this much information to the Committee by Azerbaijan’s NGOs means that the society is alert and this are is given support in Azerbaijan.