Pervana Persiani: Letter from Azerbaijan: Fighting Nile Flood?

Parvana Persiani was kind enough to share this piece with me. Hopefully Parvana will send letters regularly on the state of cybersphere in Azerbaijan. E.S.

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Azerbaijan: Fighting Nile Flood?

It seems that it is not only neighboring Arabic countries that are concerned about upraise of national protests influenced by those in Tunisia and Egypt. Azerbaijan, a small country in the Southern Caucasus, is protecting the monument of Husnu Mubarak in its small town of Khirdalan just outside of the capital Baku, very carefully. This is not the only measure taken by this tiny oil dictatorship ranking 134th (Egypt ranks 98th) on the Corruption Perception Index of the Transparency International for 2010. A chain of recent events as believed by many, were carefully organized by the government with the purpose to tackle any possible sign of public discontent.

Army, a tool for punishment?!

On November 17th, a Harvard graduate, youth activist and a former candidate in the parliamentary elections held in Azerbaijan on November 7th, 2010, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was detained on the border of Azerbaijan and Georgia. Leaving for Georgia to continue his education at the Georgian State University, Hajiyev was accused of evading military service. Being released a day after, Hajiyev claimed he was refused any food during the 24 hours of his detention and was intimidated during the investigation while being held at the military commissariat where representatives of police and executive power of Ganja (his home city) were also present.

But this was not the end of the story. On January 25th, after 5 hour-long interrogation Hajiyev was released with one condition- he would sign a document restricting him from leaving Ganja. In his response however, Hajiyev referred to his constitutional right to be considered for an alternative service. Currently, Azerbaijani legislation does not contain a law allowing for an alternative service, but the draft law is being considered by the parliament.

On January 28th Hajiyev posted the following status update on his Facebook page claiming:

?There are some people in Azerbaijan taking advantage of the alternative service. I sent the decisions made on the case of these people by several regional prosecutors to the office of the General Prosecutor?

A day later, his Twitter account contained the following feed:

?My government opened a criminal case against me for demanding my constitutional right?

?in 4 days from now, Azerbaijani government may send me to jail for demanding alternative service(not military) which is my constitutional right?

Fighting corruption, or just another show?

Along with pressuring youth, the government has put on a well-orchestrated new show called ?its plan to fight corruption?.

On February 3rd, as, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev reported on his Twitter, that he was kept under house detention for 2 months, Ramiz Mehdiyev, the head of the Presidential Administration and the head of the Anti Corruption Commission held first meeting of the Commission since 2009. According to Radio Liberty Azerbaijan service Ramiz Mehdiyev said commission received a large volume of complaints on shortcomings in the work of executive power and law enforcement institutions. The content of these complaints were labeled as ?artificial preventions to the development of the business, negative facts in the banking, construction, transportation, education, health, social protection and other spheres, the cases of bribery and corruption, shortcomings in review of the requests by citizens?, reports Radio Liberty Azerbaijan service.

Khadija Ismayilova, a freelance writer for considers use of such language, which usually used by the opposition, as an attempt of the official Baku to show that it does not ignore one of the major issues of public discontent in Azerbaijan, unlike its Arabic colleagues:

?Official efforts in recent years to tackle corruption complaints have been largely hit-and-miss. But, now, amid ongoing street protests for political change in the Arab world, the government in Baku appears eager to show that it is listening. Government sources told that unofficial directives have already been issued to employees ordering them to avoid irritating the public and to work more effectively.?

In the same article, while referring to the pro-government MP Vahid Ahmedov?s desire on formulation of a new government, Ismayilova notes, ?there are no indications that President Aliyev is considering a cabinet overhaul?. In fact, to many experts, meetings of Anti-Corruption Commission mean nothing more than boring statistic figures. On the other hand, needles to say, all this corruption talk, led many Azerbaijani citizens enjoy the non-corrupt bureaucracy for a month or longer, depending on the results of revolution in Egypt.

Punishments continue

In fact, the formulation of a new government does not seem to be the priority in Azerbaijan to prevent Arabian wave. Instead, the government sticks to its ?old good methods? for punishment- fake charges on hooliganism, drug possession and others for teaching a lesson to those who are inspired by ongoing events in the Arab world.

On February 5th, 19-year-old political activist, a member of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Jabbar Savalan was arrested in his hometown Sumgayit on drug-possession charges. Police claimed they found 0.17grams of drugs on Jabbar with no further details.

Savalan?s mother and brother were already looking for him for 6 hours when they went to the police station to claim their family member went missing when police told them their son was arrested on drug charges. Savalan was allowed to meet his lawyer only on February 7th. In his interview to the Radio Liberty Azerbaijan service, attorney Asabali Mustafayev said that at the police station Savalan was intimidated and pressured to admit he was a drug addict. According to Mustafayev his defendant was told at the police office that this case does not depend on them, and that it was ordered from the tops.

Abulfaz Gurbanly, the head of the Youth Committee of the Popular Front Party, in a statement made shortly after Savalan?s arrest, said he knew Savalan since September 2010. In November 2010 he became a member of the party and was active in the work of the Committee.

?To claim that he is a drug addict is just nonsense. He didn?t even smoke, didn?t drink alcohol. Savalan was very disciplined. This is just a new strategy of the government- to arrest those who are very young and less popular in political arena,? said Gurbanly in his interview.

Meanwhile, the representative of the Press Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Orkhan Mansurzade commented on the case after the court hearing that ended with 2 months of pre trial detention for Jabbar Savalan, noting that the case of 19-year-old youngster should not be politicized and this is nothing more than part of an investigation and operational search measures.

In his last Facebook status before the arrest Savalan called everybody to fight for recent rise in prices.

Polytical Analyst Rashad Shirin thinks that Azerbaijan will keep sliding down on its human rights records, because it is easy for the government to create an image of fighting corruption, but dangerous to let excited activists feel safe in spreading their ideas:

?I think Azerbaijani government is really concerned. The meetings of anti corruption commission are bright example of this concern. But they won?t make an essential change as usually. May be corruption will be erased in low level, but it wont help. But these events definitely had an affect on government?s way of thinking. On the other hand I dont think it will affect human rights situation. Because the government wants to focus on corruption, but not human rights. Human rights and political freedoms are not supposed to be reformed ? otherwise, it will lead to loss of power for them?

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