Wednesday, 19 December 2001

STRUGGLE AGAINST ISLAMISTS IS ON IN AZERBAIJAN

Published in Field Reports

By Gulnara Ismailova, a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan (12/19/2001 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The religious factor is getting more noticeable in Azerbaijan. Only during the last few years,  actions were brought against leaders of Islamic parties, especially representatives of the extremist Islamic grouping “Jeyshullah”. Wahhabis are also often mentioned it this context.

The religious factor is getting more noticeable in Azerbaijan. Only during the last few years,  actions were brought against leaders of Islamic parties, especially representatives of the extremist Islamic grouping “Jeyshullah”. Wahhabis are also often mentioned it this context. All of these groups are serious threats for Azerbaijan’s statehood and the lives of its citizens. The investigations into these cases discovered that the extremists were able to find support among young people relatively easily, as they offered them their extremist ideas and used religious discourse to convince them.

On November 25, Haji Hajiaga Nuriev, deputy chairman of the Azerbaijan Islamic Party (AIP), was arrested at the Astara customs point on the border with Iran. Nuriev’s arrest was motivated by his resistance and offering of bribes. Criminal proceedings against Nuriev were initiated by legal provisions 312.1 (bribery) and 315.1 (resistance to officials).

In 1997, four leaders of this party, among them Nuriev himself, were convicted of spying for the Iranian government. However, in November 1999 due to tuberculosis, Nuriev and the other convicted AIP leaders were pardoned by the head of the state. Simultaneously with the arrest, the Baku headquarters of AIP, the office of the independent Islamic information center “Voice of Islam”, and the editorial office of “World of Islam” were sealed.

Immediately after these events, a committee on protecting rights of Nuriev was established. Rafik Sultanov, member of supreme council of AIP, headed this committee. Leaders of allied parties, members of the “Vahdat”, “Namus” and “Social-democratic” parties supported the arrested.  The arrest of one of the country’s Islamist leaders, and the sealing of the party’s office have political underpinnings and should be considered in the framework of a general crackdown on Islamic organizations.

These events give ground to assume that there is a crackdown on the party, whereas the accusations brought against the leader are mere pretexts. The AIP has never hidden its negative attitude to the western-oriented policy conducted by official Baku. Authorities accuse AIP of receiving financial aid from Iran. Interestingly, part of the financial aid western countries allocate to the Azerbaijani government are used for the struggle with Islamic movements within the country. 

According to Rovshan Ahmedov, one of the members of the committee to protect Nuriev’s rights, the deputy chairman of the AIP is accused of concealing some documents while crossing the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, which was followed by an attempt to bribe the officials. Ahmedov argues Nuriev could have any party documents with him, as he is one of the leaders of this party. He claims there is nothing contradicting the provisions of the Azerbaijani constitution. If the issue was connected with Nuriev’s trip to Iran, any citizen of Azerbaijan may visit any country of the world at any time according to the country’s laws, Ahmedov argues. The arrest hence had a political character, is illegal, and the proceedings against him are groundless.

Araz Gurbanov, head of the Ministry of National Security’s press department, brought some clarity to the situation. According to Gurbanov, the customs inspection of Nuriev’s luggage discovered some suspicious documents relevant to the AIP. As these were discovered, Nuriev allegedly offered a bribe to customs officials, but as they refused, he began to resist the law enforcement officers. As a result, he was arrested, and criminal proceedings against him were initiated in the Astara district public prosecutor’s department. “As the materials discovered were of interest to investigators, the prosecutor sealed the headquarter of the AIP”, according to Gurbanov. This was done at the initiative of general prosecutors, who have been investigating AIP in the past, specifically during the proceedings of the spy case.

It became known that Nuriev was brought to Baku and placed in the Bailov jail on December 1. After the expected judgment in Nuriev’s case, his supporters plan to appeal to the Appeals Court of Azerbaijan. 

Gulnara Ismailova, a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.
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