Human Rights and the Media
Ethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis has resulted in widespread human rights violations by vigilante groups and local authorities. During the Elchibey period, the minister of internal affairs was replaced after admitting to numerous human rights abuses. Lezgins in Azerbaijan have complained of human rights abuses such as restrictions on educational opportunities in their native language. In the early 1990s, Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch cited numerous cases of arbitrary arrest and torture, including incidents since Aliyev assumed power in 1993. These organizations and several governments protested against the arrest and beating of hundreds of APF and other political and government officials and raids on APF offices, all after the change of government in mid-1993. At one point, Isa Kamber, a former speaker of the Melli-Majlis, was seized in the legislative chamber and held for two months. In late 1993, other APF officials were reportedly arrested for antigovernment activity, and Aliyev asserted that APF members were plotting an armed uprising against him.
Based on these and other incidents, in late 1993 the international human rights monitoring group Freedom House downgraded Azerbaijan to the rank of world states adjudged "not free." Nevertheless, Aliyev has proclaimed Azerbaijani adherence to international human rights standards, and in December 1993 he signed the CSCE Paris Accords on democracy and human rights.
News media censorship and other constraints on human rights, tightened after Aliyev came to power, were eased somewhat in September 1993 with the lifting of the national state of emergency. In the face of a growing political crisis in late 1993 caused by heavy military losses, however, many in the Azerbaijani government urged Aliyev to declare another period of emergency rule. Instead, he announced several measures to "tighten public discipline," including curfews and the creation of military tribunals to judge military deserters and draft evaders.
In late November 1993, the legislature refused to pass an Aliyev-backed press bill restricting news media freedom in the name of ensuring national unity. Nevertheless, efforts to restrict the media continued, and passage of a law on military censorship in December 1993 raised concerns among journalists that new restrictions would be imposed on a broad scale. At the end of 1993, the only newspaper publishing house, Azerbaijan, was under government control. The state was able to curtail the supply of printing materials to independent publishers because most of those items came from Russia. Meanwhile, rising prices cut newspaper and magazine subscriptions by over 50 percent in early 1994. Television, the preferred information source for most Azerbaijanis, was controlled by the government, which operated the only national television channel.
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