RFE/RL Media Matters Vol. 6, No. 11, 28 July 2006
- RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
RFE/RL MEDIA MATTERS
Vol. 6, No. 11, 28 July 2006
"Freedom of information is...the touchstone of all the freedoms."
(UN Freedom of Information Conference, 1948)
* FORMER AZERBAIJANI POLICE OFFICIAL CONFESSES TO
* TURKMEN RIGHTS ACTIVIST WORRIED BY JOURNALIST'S DETENTION
* OSCE MEDIA ENVOY TALKS ABOUT CENTRAL ASIA'S CHALLENGES
FORMER POLICE OFFICIAL CONFESSES TO JOURNALIST'S MURDER
By Liz Fuller
Haci Mammadov, former head of the Criminal Investigation
Department of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry, confessed on July 25
to having killed opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov last year at
the behest of then Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev.
Huseynov, editor of the journal "Monitor" that systematically
investigated alleged corruption, was gunned down outside his
apartment on March 2, 2005. Days later, police arrested some 20
members of a gang reportedly led by Mammadov whose members are
currently on trial for several high-profile killings and abductions
committed over a period of 10 years.
Aliyev was dismissed from his post in October 2005 and
arrested on charges of embezzlement and plotting a coup against the
Azerbaijani leadership, charges he has steadfastly denied.
On July 26, Aliyev issued a statement to the Azerbaijani
people, posted on day.az, in which he again asserted his innocence.
Aliyev also said in that statement that he was recently warned that
he would be charged with Huseynov's murder unless he agreed to
plead guilty to the coup charge.
The preliminary hearings in the trial of Mammadov and 26
others accused with him opened in Baku's Court for Grave Crimes
in early July. Lawyers for several of the accused demanded that the
pretrial investigations be reopened, claiming that in some cases no
evidence was available to substantiate charges.
For example, Nishad Ismailov is charged with having committed
a murder in Azerbaijan, although he can prove he was in Moscow at the
time of the killing, according to the online daily zerkalo.az on July
7. Requests by several defendants to summon senior officials to give
evidence, including Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov and Interior
Minister Colonel General Ramil Usubov, were denied.
Testifying on July 25, Mammadov admitted to six murders,
including those of a fellow Interior Ministry official, Azer
Ismaylov, and of Huseynov. He added that then Economic Development
Minister Aliyev ordered Huseynov's murder, but did not provide
any further details, and the presiding judge adjourned the session
immediately after that revelation. During his pretrial testimony,
Mammadov said he was approached with a contract to kill Huseynov, but
that he personally did not commit the murder.
In an analysis of the implications of Mammadov's claim of
responsibility for Huseynov's murder published on July 26, the
online daily zerkalo.az recalled that Turkish investigators asked by
the Azerbaijani authorities last year to assist in the investigation
of that killing raised the possibility that Mammadov was responsible,
but the Azerbaijani authorities discounted that possibility.
Several suspects in Huseynov's killing have been named,
but none apprehended. Zerkalo.az further suggested that Mammadov in
fact had nothing to do with Huseynov's killing, but for reasons
unclear agreed to shoulder responsibility for it.
Elton Guliyev, Aliyev's lawyer, dismissed Mammadov's
allegation outright, and reaffirmed that during the nine months
Aliyev has been held in pretrial detention, investigators have failed
to produce a shred of evidence to substantiate the charges against
Shahbaz Hudoglu, a close friend of Huseynov, commented to
day.az on July 26 that there was no ill-feeling between Huseynov and
Aliyev. He said Huseynov considered Aliyev corrupt, although less so
than many other government ministers. Hudoglu added that Huseynov
gave Aliyev credit for being one of very few senior government
officials to invest in the Azerbaijani economy.
Mammadov's sensational claim of responsibility for
Huseynov's murder is likely to revive speculation, first
expressed in January this year by a former police colonel dismissed
from the Interior Ministry in 2001, about how his gang could have
operated undetected over a period of 10 years without his superiors,
including Usubov, suspecting anything. (Originally published on July
RIGHTS ACTIVIST WORRIED BY JOURNALIST'S DETENTION
By Bruce Pannier
Tajigul Begmedova is the chairwoman of the Bulgaria-based
Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Forced to leave
Turkmenistan in March 2002, the Turkmen authorities have harassed her
relatives since she left. Begmedova visited Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty headquarters in Prague today and expressed great concern with
the fate of some activists and an RFE/RL journalist that are
currently being detained by the government.
While at RFE/RL headquarters, Begmedova touched on an issue
that is close to the organization: the current detention of RFE/RL
Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova. "Ogulsapar
Muradova, I think, is a very strong and capable person who chose to
work in the difficult conditions of Turkmenistan -- and there are
such people in Turkmenistan," she said.
Muradova was detained on June 18, part of series of
detentions Turkmen authorities made that also netted rights activists
Annagurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev. Muradova's
children were detained one week later but released at the start of
July. Muradova still has not been charged with committing any offense
but state media in Turkmenistan has said she passed along "slanderous
information" in her reporting about social conditions in the country.
Muradova's case has received the attention of
international rights organizations that have released a number of
statements and appeals on behalf of Muradova and the others detained.
Begmedova credits Muradova with providing an example to the
people of Turkmenistan, adding that "this is a [positive] step
because other people are also starting to raise their heads."
But Begmedova expressed some concern for Muradova and the
others, saying that once Turkmen authorities detain a person,
pressure is put on the detainee. "In Turkmenistan we are all
witnesses to the fact that the Turkmen regime -- as soon as it
detains someone -- can force them to sign confessions and such a show
or scenario has happened more than once," Begmedova said.
Begmedova noted a positive development in the Muradova case,
in that when Muradova's children were being held they were
reportedly shown mercy not usually given to those detained in
Turkmenistan. "There are reports that [detention officials] even
helped [Muradova's children]," she said. "Even inside the holding
area they helped them and what is especially interesting is that
their guards [reportedly] told the children to speak up if they
needed to use the toilet although [officially] it is allowed [to
detainees] to go [to the toilet] only two times."
Another new development that Begmedova mentioned was the
ability of her organization to contact the children after they were
In another departure from the usual treatment in
Turkmenistan, authorities are considering a request from
Begmedova's organization and others to provide funding for
Muradova's legal defense. "We are working on this right now and
hope that it will be decided positively," she said.
Despite some positive signs, Begmedova said the world's
craving for energy resources could be putting the defense of human
rights on the back burner, as there are already examples of this in
"This has happened several times and a vivid example was in
2003 when there was the so-called gas agreement between Russia and
Turkmenistan and more than 100,000 Russian citizens living in
Turkmenistan were forgotten," Begmedova said. "Also, the attempts to
reach a trade agreement that are under way between Europe and
Turkmenistan, which rights organizations are condemning -- for
example Human Rights Watch -- is another example."
Many of those 100,000 Russians eventually made their way to
Russia after Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov unilaterally
cancelled a dual citizenship agreement with Russia and ordered his
country's citizens to choose which country they would live in.
The European Union is currently debating the signing of a trade
agreement with Turkmenistan. The potential agreement has divided
those who would see the EU promote human rights and those interested
in buying oil and gas from resource rich Turkmenistan for use in
The world's increasing need for energy has led to
criticism that many nations are turning a blind eye to rights
violations in countries like Turkmenistan, as these countries place a
priority on meeting their nations' energy requirements.
(Originally published on July 21. See
70606F3E4BC.html to listen to Tajigul Begmedova's full
OSCE MEDIA ENVOY TALKS ABOUT REGION'S CHALLENGES
By Bruce Pannier
Media freedom in Central Asia has long been a thorny problem
for Western organizations dealing with the region. The post-Soviet
administrations there have proven resistant to allowing the sort of
freedoms that would allow for criticism of government policies or
officials. That presents a number of challenges for the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) representative on
freedom of the media, Miklos Haraszti, a Hungarian writer,
journalist, and human rights defender. Haraszti talked to RFE/RL
about the challenges for media in Central Asia and areas where the
OSCE has tried to help to improve the media climate.
Haraszti says the media situation in Central Asia is
characterized by multiple print and Internet outlets. But, he adds,
control over television and other broadcast media remains in a few
"It is basically a slope of pluralism which is higher in the
case of the print press but a bit lower in the case of the broadcast
media," Haraszti says. "Pluralism is quite confined in the whole
region to the print media and actually toward the Internet, [and
among] the different media types that the Internet is hosting. But in
the broadcast field -- even in countries where there is privately
owned broadcast media, [and] even in countries where there is a kind
of a readiness for a transformation of state-owned media into
public-service media to be found -- the actual content of broadcast
media is quite monopolized and not really covering the whole of
political life in a fair and objective fashion."
Haraszti says he sees a discernable trend among Central Asian
governments to tighten legislation to keep media outlets silent --
especially independent media outlets that question state policy or
"We observe a sadly growing trend of administrative
discrimination vis-a-vis the fragile and economically weak
independent print media -- different types of new regulations,
registration, re-registration regimes, accreditation problems, all of
them in the form of a seemingly objective regulatory framework,"
Haraszti says. "But, in fact, [such measures] somehow always [are]
hitting at the independent press and almost never at the official,
state-owned press -- which is a form of discrimination."
Haraszti notes that all five Central Asian republics -- all
of them OSCE member states -- inherited a Soviet mentality with
respect to the media. He says that, as a result, it will be some time
before anyone can expect media laws in the region to conform to those
in Western democracies. But Haraszti says that-- in keeping with his
OSCE mandate -- his office does contact Central Asian authorities to
alert them to regulations that contradict those in other parts of the
"We have set medium-range goals for media democratization,
which we always do," Haraszti says. "So these are decriminalization
of all types of punitive laws that penalize speech offenses in a
criminal way, [that is, to] criminalize them. We ask all
participating states to put all of those offenses into the domain of
civil law, [that is] civil court, instead of criminalizing
journalists for what they do even if they do it in a way that has to
be sanctioned somehow."
Such laws have silenced or jailed journalists in several
Central Asian states.
Haraszti says there have been times when it was necessary to
stage what he terms an "intervention." He points to Kazakhstan, where
the government complained of too many media outlets and introduced
amendments that simply made it more difficult for media and
"They introduced these amendments, and now these amendments
are actually making fines higher," Haraszti says. "They reintroduce
registration, [or rather] they introduce re-registration, at any
given occasion when business data -- like the office address -- has
changed in a given outlet. And fees are introduced for registration.
And a very important and actually very restrictive provision, [or]
draft provision, is that the persons who have worked for any media
outlet that has earlier been closed by a court ruling cannot apply to
be editors with newly registered media, cannot register a media
[outlet]. And that, I think, is something that probably
constitutionally is a questionable requirement because it puts
another punishment on top of what the courts at that time have
Haraszti expresses hope that Kazakh President Nursultan
Nazarbaev might veto the draft law. But earlier this week, Nazarbaev
signed the media amendments into law despite objections from rights
groups inside and outside Kazakhstan.
Haraszti indicates there are some countries with which the
OSCE's level of cooperation is still not good. "I still
couldn't visit Uzbekistan," he says. "Otherwise, I was able to
visit all other four countries in the region. And I hope very much
that the level of cooperation with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan will
improve in the future."
Haraszti says that an annual OSCE-sponsored event dedicated
to the region's journalists might provide a possible avenue to
improving ties with Central Asian states.
"We will be having a Central Asian media gathering in October
in Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan, where we will be discussing the
sustainability of media -- both privatized and new media start-ups,"
Haraszti says. "[We will discuss] how to make them compatible with
the market [and] how to help their freedom by sane policy of the
publisher and of the editor on the market. And we are having a first
day of deliberations and a second day of training for the
participants. This will be in October in Bishkek. Last year...we had
participants from all five [Central Asian states], which was a very
happy circumstance, and we hope to repeat it this year."
Haraszti also says he hopes to be making another tour through
the region soon. (Originally published on July 7.)
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