Statement on the pre-election situation in Azerbaijan (Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights House Foundation, Human Rights Center “Viasna”)
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Baku, November 4th, 2005
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights House Foundation (Norway) and Human Rights Centre Viasna (Belarus) are deeply concerned by several recent arrests and human rights violations during the run-up to the Azerbaijani elections scheduled for November 6th. There are strong indications that the violations are politically motivated.
Last night, November 3rd, police raided election headquarters of exiled candidate Mr Rasul Guliyev in Baku and arrested two of his leading campaigners, Kenan Rahimov and Faramaz Javadov. They are now being held in the Department of Organised Crimes of the Ministry of Interior. During the attack, equipment of the campaign office was destroyed and confiscated.
On October 27 the famous scholar Professor Eldar Salayev was detained and put into the isolation ward of the Ministry of National Security. Mr Salayev, aged 72, is one of few Azerbaijani scientists who has openly criticised the policy of the ruling party. He has been accused of plotting mass unrest and coup d’etat by force.
On October 17 Etibar Guliyev and Natig Effendiyev of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party were arrested. Both men are former political prisoners pardoned by the president in 2004. They have been held in the Department of Organised Crimes with limited access to their lawyers. Illegally their cases have been preliminary tried in the Department of Organised Crimes, instead of in court as required by the law. Yesterday, when the lawyer of Natig Effendiyev was finally allowed to see his client, Mr. Effendiyev was in a very poor health condition. The Department’s previous record of using torture adds to the concern raised by these reports.
Prior to these events a large number of public officials have been dismissed from their positions or arrested on suspicions of giving support to the leader of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party Rasul Guliyev. The government appears to be strengthening its position by acting against people it accuses of having links to the opposition.
The Government of Azerbaijan has several times stressed that they intend to create conditions for conducting free and fair elections in the Republic. Despite this, we have seen that the registered candidates have had grossly uneven conditions during their pre-election campaign activities. We have also received reports that an increasing number of candidates from different regions have been exposed to pressure to withdraw their candidacy, or have been eliminated from the lists of candidates. The elimination of candidates has been based on false accusations of violation of the legislation.
This is exemplified by the case of the scholar Boyukhan Farzali Kerimov - an independent candidate of Constituency nr 70, Masalli City. He was considered to have illegally bribed voters by giving goods and other valuable items in return of votes. He was struck off the list of registered candidates by a court decision on Thursday November 3rd. Similar actions were taken against the independent candidate Osman Gunduz registered in Constituency number 109. Moreover, several national observers report that voters have been exposed to pressure from employers or local authorities to vote for particular candidates. Equally, we have received reports that citizens have been dismissed under the pretext of supporting the opposition. Youth activists have been harassed and repeatedly detained. The young leaders of the Yeni Fikir movement, Ruslan Bashirli and Said Nuri, are still imprisoned.
A fundamental condition for holding free and fair election is that citizens truly believe they can exercise their rights and freedoms without fear of repercussions. Technical improvements to the administration of elections are not sufficient in a society where voters and candidates alike are under pressure.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights House Foundation and Human Rights Center Viasna are currently in Azerbaijan in order to follow the immediate run-up to the election. Representatives of the respective organisations applied for accreditation as election observers under the auspices of Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) election observation project. The observers applying for accreditation through this project also included representatives from Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Regrettably, the Central Election Commission declined to offer the group accreditation.
We remind the Azerbaijani authorities of their commitment to respect for fundamental human rights and democratic elections.