Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Human Rights Watch World Report 1998


Human Rights Developments

Azerbaijan's human rights record in 1997 continued to be dismal but had no perceptible impact on the unprecedented level of involvement by the international community and international business in the country. International investment activity in the petroleum sector was feverish: two new consortia were formed for Caspian sea oil, President Heydar Aliyev signed agreements with U.S. oil companies totaling U.S.$10 billion, and drilling began in some fields. The international community largely glossed over Azerbaijan's poor human rights record in order to protect oil interests.

In 1997 (January 9 and 16, March 19) the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan convicted fifty-six individuals implicated in the March 1995 uprising by the Special Task Force Police (OPON) in Baku. In the January 9 trial, several individuals who had given testimony against the lead defendant later retracted it in court, claiming police had extracted it using torture. In December 1996, the court for the second time had refused to order forensic evidence in the cases of defendants convicted on January 16-evidence that might have supported their seemingly credible claims of the torture endured during the investigation.

The Supreme Court convicted all twenty-one defendants in the so-called Case of the Generals, in which four generals and one civilian were charged with planning coups in April and August 1995. In December 1996 nineteen of the defendants wrote to Amnesty International claiming they were tortured.

The treason trial of five members of the Islamic party of Azerbaijan, for allegedly spying for Iran, ended in lengthy prison sentences for four. In 1996, police released two other suspects in arrested in the same case to the custody of their families: one died as a result of injuries he had sustained during police torture.

Against this backdrop, the chair of the parliamentary human rights commission in January acknowledged that prison conditions in Azerbaijan were poor, but claimed that there were no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Regarding torture of OPON defendants, he acknowledged that "sometimes there were mistakes," but he discounted even this by suggesting that, since the OPON members were found guilty, they had brought the ill-treatment upon themselves.

Political arrests on alleged coup and treason charges continued in late 1996 and in 1997. On November 25, 1996, police arrested Rasim Agayev, press secretary to former president Ayaz Mutalibov, on charges of high treason in connection with yet another alleged coup attempt. On March 18, police confiscated Mr. Agayev's academic works, claiming they contained coup plans. On January 13, police arrested Akhad Mamedov, assistant to the chair of the opposition party Musavat, allegedly because his telephone number was in the phone book of a man charged with espionage. Two Musavat officials remained under police investigation for their role in attempting to prevent the June 1993 coup that eventually brought President Aliyev to power.

In a positive move, on January 29, the procuracy released former Prime Minister Panah Huseinovafter nine months in detention, although it did not drop the corruption charges against him.

Media censorship continued in 1997, despite government claims to the contrary, especially on such "sensitive" issues as criticism of President Aliyev's policy on Nagorno Karabakh, on oil, and on human rights, including critical thought about Azerbaijan's entry to the Council of Europe. In January, the opposition daily Azadlyg (Independence) reported that in 1996, 105 issues were censored in some way, including twenty-seven articles and three caricatures that were completely banned and seventy-six articles that were partially banned. A Baku district court fined an Azadlyg journalist for insulting the honor and dignity of the Milli Majlis (parliament) for commenting that one member, a former teacher, treated the parliament like a school auditorium, and its deputies like school children. The Ganja local government confiscated all 2,400 copies of a book about the 19th century Russian occupation of Ganja.

A Baku police station chief beat journalist Tapdyg Farkhadoglu on November 17 after his interview with an opposition leader. The government closed its investigation of the beating on January 28, allegedly because the suspect could not be located, and reopened it under pressure in April, with no results.

The government sought to maintain a virtual information blockade on the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, accessible to the rest of Azerbaijan only by air. In a move to isolate former president Abulfaz Elchibey, who resides in the Nakhchivan village of Keleki, and to prevent his return to Baku, police repeatedly prevented him from meeting with journalists and opposition leaders. On May 4, Nakhchivan police questioned an Azadlyg journalist, held him for eleven days (for allegedly resisting police officers), and fined him 22,000 manat. In July, police at the Nakhchivan airport questioned Irene Lasota, editor of the U.S. publication Uncaptive Minds, and attempted to confiscate materials from her interview with Mr. Elchibey; on September 6 two politicians and two journalists attempted to visit Mr. Elchibey, but were turned back to Baku at the Nakhchivan airport; similar incidents occurred September 11 and October 6. On October 30, however, Mr. Elchibey returned to Baku on a plane provided by the Azerbaijani government.

Police harassed opposition political parties mostly by preventing local party conferences and other gatherings. This harassment is significant in its own right, and also given the likelihood of presidential elections in 1998. In January, Salyan district police prevented the Party of Civic Solidarity from staging a meeting between activists and residents. Police dispersed members of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) as they attempted to hold a conference on June 3 and forbade the APFP from meeting in Lerik district. On June 28 police in the Qebele district broke up a Musavat conference. In February, a court ruled illegal the Ministry of Justice's persistent refusal to register the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, yet as of this writing the party remained unregistered.

The Right to Monitor

Verbal attacks by members of parliament and in the state-run press against the human rights movement in 1997 targeted individual activists rather than organizations. Two deputies to the Milli Majlis unleashed a veritable witch hunt in the state-owned media against Arzu Abdullayeva, head of the Azerbaijani National Committee of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, Leyla Yunusova, chair of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (a human rights advocacy group) and co-chair of the Vahdat political party, and Lala Gajiyeva, of the Liberal Party. The unfounded smear campaign against Ms. Abdullayeva criticized her defense of the rights of ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan and branded her an Armenian spy; the campaign painted Ms. Yunosova, who has spoken out frequentlyagainst government abuse, as a spy for the Russian military.

The Ministry of Justice arranged for at least two visits by non-governmental human rights organizations to post-conviction labor camps, but continued to refuse access to pre-trial facilities.

The Role of the

International Community


As part of its procedure for considering Azerbaijan's membership application, the Council of Europe sent a team of attorneys to Baku to evaluate the degree to which the country's legal system met Council standards; as of this writing the report has not been made public. During their visit the team spoke frankly to the press about Azerbaijan's human rights problems.

In November, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), organized a conference for government officials on the role of the judiciary in the rule of law. Ambassador Audrey Glover, head of ODIHR, limited her public remarks on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. In a meeting with journalists she stated, "Azerbaijan is in first stage of transition from totalitarianism to democracy and we want to help it along this path," a lost opportunity for the OSCE to acknowledge the country's poor record.

United States

President Aliyev made the first state visit ever to the U.S. by an Azerbaijani head of state, a clear sign of the Clinton administration's desire to promote U.S. oil interests. Human rights concerns were eclipsed by the overwhelming business and political concessions President Aliyev gained during the visit, including $10 billion in contracts with U.S. oil companies; administration pledges to overhaul or circumvent Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, legislation that bans direct U.S. assistance to the Azerbaijani government; and a joint statement with the Department of Defense indicating the Pentagon's desire to deepen its relationship with the Azerbaijani military through education and training. Both President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeline Albright raised human rights issues; however since no information about such conversations was made public, President Aliyev was able to claim later that the Clinton administration approved of Azerbaijan's progress on rule of law.

Draft foreign trade legislation would circumvent Section 907 by authorizing operations by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade Development Agency. As of this writing legislation had not been adopted.

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Ave 34th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10118-3299
(212) 216-1220

email Human Rights Watch

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page

This Web page was created using a Trial Version of Transit Central Station 3.0.