Friday, July 29

Unlawful arrests, referendum and more in Aliyev's La La land

Remember the two youth activists detained in May in Azerbaijan? If you don't here is a story to freshen up your memory. The two men were detained unlawfully. There was no proof the two were allegedly drug users as police claimed. Not only were they detained unlawfully but they were also tortured, threatened with rape and not allowed to see their family members or the lawyer. 

It has now been more than two months since their detention and in these past two months they have only seen their family twice. In fact, only one, Giyas Ibrahimov was allowed to see his family even though by law they are allowed family visits once a week according to their lawyer. 

The lawyer also said that during medical examination on July 5 and 12, doctors concluded the two were clean of drugs and in fact there were no traces of any substance. 

Not surprisingly when the lawyer asked that the fingerprints found on drug packages "discovered" during the search were compared with fingerprints of the two youth activist, the court dismissed this request. 

Where does this leave us? For starers that neither Giyas nor Bayram are drug addicts. We have already known that Azerbaijan's judiciary is a shit-show and fair trial to activists, journalists, rights defenders is non existent. 

Their faith will be decided soon. I fear it won't be a good outcome. But then maybe the thought of acquiring more power via referendum will make the government officials forget about these two innocent gentlemen. 

After all, it is not an easy task to run a country especially if you fear you will be brought down by your very own "closed circle of special friends" who have been around you but you fear they have been around for far too long. Surely there is also the killing urge to stay in power for as long as possible, groom your children to become future presidents and so on. 

In fact, here are all proposed amendments to the constitution, for which Azerbaijan will hold a referendum on September 26. 

Please follow the link and read it online. 

Also in Aliyev's la la land are measures taken against Gulen establishments. A university, that is known for its quality education (unlike many other universities of Azerbaijan) was turned over to Baku Higher Oil School or simply put under the management of SOCAR (the State oil company). The university since 2013 was already under the management of Azerbaijan's International Education Center which was wounded by SOCAR. 

I wrote the following for Global Voices earlier about the matter: 

In 2014 when Erdogan went to Azerbaijan to visit President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan promptly shut down a network of schools linked to Gulen that were regarded as some of the best in the country.
The management of 11 high schools, 13 university exam preparation centers and one private university was transferred to SOCAR, Azerbaijan's state oil company. Fast forward to July 18, 2016 and the pattern continues. After reportedly conferring with ally Erdogan, Aliyev decided to announce the closure of one of the country's few remaining bribe-free education establishments, the Caucasus University, which was founded by adherents of Gulen.

And last but not least one newspaper known for its ties with Gulen establishment was shut down while one TV channel's license was revoked after airing an interview with the cleric. 

Then there are banks and other business (unrelated to Gulen) but closing down as a result of the financial crisis. This time 4 more banks- Parabank, Zaminbank, Dekabank, Kredobank- had their license revoked. 

This all for now, until next update. 

Wednesday, July 20

What you need to know about proposal for yet another referendum in Azerbaijan?

This would be a third time our country will have a constitutional referendum.

The first one was introduced by Heydar Aliyev. A year before his death, on August 24, 2002 Aliyev introduced a number of critical constitutional amendments giving the Prime Minister the power to act as an interim President- the power which previously rested with the speaker of the parliament- until the new round of elections. It was not the only critical amendment. “The most important changes over which the referendum is believed to have been organized were the cancellation of the proportional electoral system, which implied that deputies are to be selected only on the basis of single-member constituencies; the number of votes required for the election of President was reduced to simple majority where before two thirds of votes were required; and transfer authority to ban political parties from the Constitutional Court to public courts”. 

The day of the referendum was marred by violations, fraud, and yet, passed with 97percent vote.

In 2009, Ilham Aliyev, the son of Heydar Aliyev had his own referendum on March 18, which allowed him to cross off the presidential term limit among other critical amendments. Needless to say fraud and violations were abound. You know what they say, "like father like son". 

And just when we thought it cannot get any worse, Ilham Aliyev (who has been in power since 2003) decides to introduce a whole new series of amendments in another referendum. 

So what does he propose this time? In total there are 29 proposed amendments: 
- broadly speaking to reorganize the legislative as well as executive branches; 
- Aliyev suggests to extend his presidential term by another 2 years, making it 7 years in total; and have the right to announce elections at any time;
- Prime Minister would be replaced by first vice president and vice presidents; 
- Vice presidents will have immunity throughout their service. Unless vice presidents are caught "in action" committing a crime, he/she (most likely he) will be totally untouchable;
- President would have the right to introduce "extraordinary election" for president;
- Minimum of 35 age limit for presidential candidacy will be removed;
- The age limit for parliament member candidates would be reduced to 18;
- In case of human rights and freedoms violations, civil servants will only carry civic responsibility;
- Citizenship: according to current constitution, Azerbaijani citizen can not under any circumstance be deprived of his/her right to Azerbaijani citizenship. The new amendment suggests to remove "cannot under any circumstance"; 
- Land ownership can be restricted by law

What do these mean? Well it depends on who you ask. 

Alovsat Aliyev says that for instance removing "cannot under any circumstance" clause to the article on citizenship will increase cases of forced revoking. "This has to do with the government's interests in revoking citizenship from any citizen it wants", says the expert. 

On the amendment on land ownership, lawyer Yalchin Imanov says, "so basically now, property or land will be taken. Because up until now, constitution ensured immunity of property and the government was obliged to fulfill this immunity".

But not everyone is worried. Siyavush Novruzov, a parliament member thinks, "as the country develops, its security mechanisms improve, and reforms are carried out within state structures, it is important to make necessary amendments to constitution". As for the 7 year term limit, Novruzov had something even more outlandish to say. "Azerbaijan holds elections for three consecutive years [referring to presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections]. It takes one year to prepare for each election. That's why increasing presidential term from 5 to 7 is praiseworthy". 

Something tells me this referendum will go through just like all other referendums. And president will have all that he needs to ensure his son enters politics soon enough and it all will be fine in the land of Aliyevistan.