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WikiLeaks about Talyshs: 2007 HRR ROLLS OUT TO MIXED REACTION FROM GOAJ AND CIVIL SOCIETY

VZCZCXYZ0006
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHKB #0262/01 0771338
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 171338Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAKU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4985
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 2715
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 0864 C O N F I D E N T I A L BAKU 000262 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/14/2018 
TAGS: 
SUBJECT: AZERBAIJAN: 2007 HRR ROLLS OUT TO MIXED REACTION 
FROM GOAJ AND CIVIL SOCIETY 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Anne E. Derse per 1.4 (b,d). 
 
 1. (C) SUMMARY: In a March 12 press event, the Ambassador 
rolled out the 2007 Human Rights Report to a group of human 
rights activists, representatives of the Human Rights 
Ombudswoman's office, and Parliament's Human Rights 
Commission Chair. Although the Human Rights Commission Chair 
questioned the accuracy and neutrality of the report, she 
appreciated the invitation and engaged in a thorough dialogue 
with the group. The human rights activists noted that the 
report was one of the most effective tools in protecting 
human rights, and many expressed the desire to cooperate with 
the GOAJ to address the problems, as well as frustration that 
efforts to communicate with the GOAJ on these issues had 
fallen short. On March 16, the Ambassador presented the 
report on ANS TV's weekly news talk show (septel); poloff 
also discussed the report in a March 12 live radio call-in 
program. On March 13, Poloff delivered the report to two 
human rights attaches from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
(MFA), who disputed some of the cases included in the report 
and noted that the MFA was still studying the HRR's language 
regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. END SUMMARY 
 
AMBASSADOR'S REPORT PRESENTATION 
-------------------------------- 
 
 2. (U) On March 12, the Ambassador rolled out the 2007 Human 
Rights Report (HRR) country report on Azerbaijan to a group 
of human rights activists, representatives of the Human 
Rights Ombudswoman's office, and Parliament's Human Rights 
Commission Chair. Press were present for the beginning of 
the event, during which the Ambassador delivered remarks 
highlighting concerns in media freedom, political 
participation, freedom of assembly, religious freedom, and 
reports of torture by security forces, as well as progress in 
registering ANS television for six years, and appointing 55 
new judges who passed an exam that met international 
standards. Participants included Chair of Parliament's Human 
Rights Commission Rabiyyat Aslanova; two representatives from 
the Human Rights Ombudswoman's office, Zaur Aliyev and Adil 
Eyvazov; Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Azerbaijan branch Chair 
Arzu Abdullayeva; Foundation to Protect Women's Rights Chair 
Novella Jafaroglu; Bureau of Human Rights and Law Respect 
Chair Saida Gojamanly; ISHR Azerbaijan branch Chair Saadat 
Benanyarly; Azerbaijan Foundation of Democracy Development 
and Human Rights Protection Chair Murad Sadaddinov and Deputy 
Chair Rena Sadaddinova; Azerbaijan Committee against Torture 
Chair Elchin Behbudov; DEVAMM Chair Ilgar Ibrahimoglu; and 
Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety Chair Emin Huseynov. 
 
 3. (C) Following the Ambassador's remarks, Parliament's Human 
Rights Commission Chair Aslanova opened the discussion by 
thanking the Embassy for the invitation to the event, noting 
that this was the first time she had participated in the 
rollout presentation of the HRR. She said that establishing 
democracy was a "complicated process," and that U.S. efforts 
in this area are "noted." Aslanova disagreed with the idea 
that Azerbaijan has taken steps backwards in terms of 
democratic development, stating that there were only areas 
which still needed progress. While noting that she had not 
read the report, she questioned its accuracy and neutrality, 
picking at details mentioned in the Ambassador's speech, such 
as deaths as the result of torture, which she claimed did not 
happen in Azerbaijan. In response to U.S. concern regarding 
media freedom, she said that journalists were not 
"untouchables" and must be held to the rule of law. In 
addition, Aslanova said she had never heard reports of 
religious groups experiencing difficulties in Azerbaijan. 
 
 4. (C) The Ambassador thanked Aslanova for her participation, 
noting that a strong, independent Parliament would be a great 
help to Azerbaijan's democratic development. She defended 
the report's accuracy and objectivity, noting that many 
governmental and non-governmental sources were consulted in 
its preparation. The Ambassador highlighted Azerbaijan's 
tradition of religious tolerance, and noted that it would be 
a shame to see that image eroded because of pressure -- of 
which there were reports -- on unregistered religious groups. 
 She said that while journalists were not exempt from the 
rule of law, it was a problem when criminal charges were used 
to silence critical voices, emphasizing that the trend from 
the past two years demonstrates such an effort. The 
Ambassador noted concern about the sharp increase in libel 
lawsuits filed by public officials -- from seven cases in 
2006 to 81 in 2007. She concluded by stating that 
transitions to democracy are not easy, and require constant 
effort by the government and civil society, and pledged U.S. 
support to strengthen democratic institutions in Azerbaijan. 
 
 5. (C) Azerbaijan Committee against Torture Chair Behbudov 
criticized Aslanova's statement regarding torture, noting 
that he thoroughly investigates each report of torture and 
often sees evidence of such with his own eyes. He expressed 
frustration that the GOAJ does not issue adequate responses 
to his organization's inquiries. Behbudov said he had 
applied to President Aliyev to create a joint NGO-GOAJ 
working group to investigate reports of torture. Directing 
her comments towards Aslanova, Jafaroglu said that the human 
rights activists fully agreed with the HRR's conclusions, but 
noted that this did not mean they "wanted something bad" for 
Azerbaijan. Rather, she emphasized, civil society wanted to 
build links with GOAJ structures, including the Parliament. 
Jafaroglu disagreed with Aslanova's statements on the media, 
and said that the GOAJ should also be subject to the rule of 
law. 
 
 6. (C) Bureau of Human Rights and Law Respect Chair Gojamanly 
thanked the U.S. for its attention to human rights 
violations, and said that she understood Aslanova's position, 
which she articulated as not wanting to see negative 
information about the GOAJ. However, she emphasized, these 
problems were creating serious obstacles for democratic 
development, particularly the media situation and pervasive 
corruption in the country. Civil society, Gojamanly 
continued, should use the HRR as a guide to what needed to be 
fixed; "It's our task," she said. She expressed frustration 
regarding the GOAJ's sometimes flippant attitude towards its 
international commitments, particularly with respect to the 
Council of Europe. Gojamanly noted her appreciation that 
Aslanova had attended the event, saying that they normally 
debated via Voice of America rather than talking 
face-to-face. Benanyarly urged Aslanova to use her position 
in Parliament to address social issues that affected people, 
such as insufficient pension and minimum wage amounts. 
 
 7. (C) Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety Chair 
Huseynov said that internet freedom and legislation on the 
electronic media should be included in greater detail in the 
HRR. He disagreed with the report's characterization of 
jailed journalist Mushvig Huseynov's case, noting that while 
the journalist may have accepted a bribe, it was a set-up. 
He said that Huseynov's six-year prison sentence was not 
proportionate to sentences given to public officials 
convicted of similar crimes. Huseynov proposed creating a 
working group between civil society and Members of Parliament 
(MPs) to monitor court cases related to journalists. (NOTE: 
Opposition MPs Panah Huseyn and Jamil Hasanli often monitor 
high-profile court cases.) Huseynov also expressed 
frustration that the government does not respond to 99 
percent of his NGO's requests for information. 
 
 8. (C) Human Rights Protection Chair Sadaddinov said that the 
HRR is one of the "few helpful tools" for human rights 
defenders, and noted that every year civil society achieves 
some success because of the report. He thanked the U.S. for 
its efforts in achieving registration for ANS television. 
Without referring directly to the GOAJ, he said that 
governments in certain states were never happy with the 
report, listing China and Russia as examples. Sadaddinov 
emphasized that President Aliyev's December pardon of five 
imprisoned journalists should not be lauded as a positive 
step, stating that a real positive step would be not 
imprisoning journalists in the first place. The pardoning 
system, he continued, should not be permanent; pardons were 
only an imperfect solution and the broader problem of media 
freedom needed to be addressed. Looking directly at 
Aslanova, Sadaddinov said Azerbaijan needed to pass 
legislation decriminalizing defamation; "We'll do it sooner 
or later," he said, noting that five years ago civil society 
had fought with the GOAJ about political prisoners, and now 
most had been released from jail. 
 
 9. (C) Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Azerbaijan Chair 
Abdullayeva said that she agreed with the other human rights 
activists and with Aslanova; while she saw some positive 
steps, there were also areas in which democratic backsliding 
was occurring. Despite the "artificial" improvements to the 
city, Abdullayeva emphasized that she feels "like the country 
is collapsing." She noted the need to be able to solve 
problems domestically, by talking to the GOAJ, rather than 
"taking them abroad," which currently was necessary. 
Ibrahimoglu echoed the earlier comment that the HRR was one 
of the most effective tools in protecting human rights. He 
noted concern regarding deterioration in religious freedom 
during the year, but said that for the first time, the Human 
Rights Ombudswoman's office had assisted with many cases he 
had raised, which he estimated at 150-200. He thanked 
Aslanova for engaging in dialogue during the event. Aslanova 
concluded by noting her appreciation to the Embassy for 
organizing a forum in which such a dialogue could take place. 
 
PRESS INTERVIEWS 
---------------- 
 
 10. (U) On March 16, the Ambassador discussed the HRR in 
independent ANS Television's weekly "Hesabat" news talk show, 
one of Azerbaijan's most widely viewed news magazine 
programs. During the interview, she fielded a number of 
questions about the report's purpose, context and 
effectiveness in promoting human rights throughout the world. 
 The Ambassador defended the report's accuracy and 
objectivity, noting that our criticisms were offered in a 
spirit of strategic partnership. She underscored that a 
robust dialogue on human rights was an essential part of our 
bilateral relationship and that the HRR was a positive tool 
for U.S. foreign relations throughout the world. 
 
 11. (U) Separately, Poloff discussed the HRR in a March 12 
live radio interview on Radio Freedom. The host asked basic 
questions about the report, inquiring about its intent, how 
it was prepared, and why it did not include events from the 
current year. Chair of Parliament's Human Rights Commission 
Rabiyyat Aslanova called into the show, repeating many of the 
comments she had made at the Ambassador's rollout event, 
specifically questioning the report's accuracy and 
objectivity, and concluding that the report on every country 
looked the same each year. Opposition Musavat Party Chair 
Isa Gambar called in and defended the report's objectivity. 
He also called the audience's attention to the report's 
conclusion that the government restricted citizens' right to 
change their government peacefully by interfering in 
elections. Poloff fielded questions from callers, several of 
whom asked why the report resulted in no positive changes, 
and if that was the case, why the report was published. 
Poloff responded that the U.S. takes its commitments of 
monitoring and reporting on human rights practices seriously, 
and hopes that the report can be used as a tool by the 
government and civil society to focus on areas of concern. 
 
DELIVERY TO MFA 
--------------- 
 
 12. (C) On March 13, Poloff delivered the HRR country report 
on Azerbaijan to two officials from the Ministry of Foreign 
Affairs (MFA) Human Rights department: Ulfat Machanov, who 
specializes in media and political prisoner issues and 
Azerbaijan's human dimension commitments with the OSCE; and 
Shafa Gardashova, who specializes in gender issues, 
children's rights, and Azerbaijan's human rights commitments 
with the UN. Poloff briefed Machanov and Gardashova, noting 
the major areas of U.S. concern as outlined in the report, 
including significant deterioration of media freedom during 
the year; the government's increased limitations on political 
participation; continuing severe restrictions on the right to 
freedom of assembly; continuing reports of government use of 
torture, including the deaths of four persons during the 
year; and disturbing examples of selective harassment of some 
unregistered Muslim and Christian groups. She also 
highlighted positive steps which the government took during 
the year, including the decision to register ANS television 
for six years; the appointment of 55 new judges who passed an 
exam considered by observers to have met international 
standards; the elimination of all tent camps for 
IDPs/refugees; and cooperation with the ICRC to establish an 
effective screening and treatment system for tuberculosis in 
prisons. 
 
 13. (C) Machanov noted his concern that when it comes to the 
media situation, the U.S. "focuses on the negative side, 
presenting things as a set-up." He listed as an example the 
case of jailed journalist Sakit Zahid, who was convicted of 
narcotics possession. Machanov claimed that medical tests 
conducted on Zahid proved that he was a drug user. He 
objected to the inclusion of Talysh Sedo newspaper 
Editor-In-Chief Novruzali Mammadov's case (under the 
subsection on national/racial/ethnic minorities' rights), and 
stated that many in Azerbaijan's southern regions were 
"trying to work with Iran," and that the high treason charges 
against Mammadov "must be right." Machanov also noted that 
he disagreed with the inclusion of references to the 2003 
presidential election, which did not meet international 
standards. Poloff explained that the references to the 2003 
election would be replaced by reports on the conduct of the 
2008 presidential election in future reports, and noted that 
2008 was an opportunity for the GOAJ to improve its 
track-record -- and the relevant portions of the HRR -- on 
elections. Machanov replied that the GOAJ wanted to improve 
its record as well, and was taking steps to do so, such as 
working with the Council of Europe's Venice Commission on the 
law on freedom of assembly. 
 
 14. (C) Gardashova complained that the U.S. unfairly 
criticizes Azerbaijan for election conduct and human rights 
violations when compared to Georgia and Armenia. In response 
to U.S. concerns regarding media freedom, she emphasized that 
defamation was criminalized under Azerbaijani law, so 
imprisonment of journalists who break the law is legal. 
Poloff noted the need for decriminalization of libel, and 
stated that the U.S. does not believe journalists should be 
imprisoned for their work. Machanov said that in a meeting 
at the Presidential Apparat, an unnamed senior-level official 
had said that libel would be decriminalized, but that 
"society wasn't ready." Machanov and Gardashova examined the 
language in the report related to the Nagorno-Karabakh 
conflict, and agreed that the wording clearly demonstrated 
that Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories 
belonged to Azerbaijan; however, they said they were not sure 
about the reference to "ethnic Armenian separatists," 
stating, "to us, it's just Armenia." They said they would 
discuss the matter with their colleagues working more 
directly on the issue. (NOTE: Several hours after the 
meeting, Machanov contacted Poloff to ask for an immediate 
translation of the report. When informed that the Embassy's 
translation would not be available until April, Machanov said 
he was working on a translation.) 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
 15. (C) Aslanova's comments regarding the accuracy and 
objectivity of the report mirror the normal GOAJ reaction to 
the publication of each HRR. However, her willingness to 
discuss the human rights situation with the human rights 
activists and the MFA officials' openness to engaging in a 
conversation on the report were positive. We will continue 
to look for opportunities to use the HRR as a public outreach 
tool. 
DERSE

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