Friday, January 23, 2009

Referendum approaches, and opposition grows

The signs are going up. Yes, in a couple of months, Azerbaijani citizens will have the chance to voice their approval of a measure that would remove the two-term limit from the president. But while President Ilham Aliyev was credited with reaping 89 percent of the vote in the November election, the proposed constitutional changes are stirring up real opposition.

The opposition to Aliyev has been fractious in the recent past, although the real opposition groups did agree to boycott the last election (hence - contributing to the Ilham’s landslide). Now, however, the referendum to remove term limits appears to galvanizing opposition groups, who might not see eye to eye on much but can agree that an limitation of the current regime is a bad thing for democracy.

But - as always the case, expressing opposition in Azerbaijan is costly. A reminder: the trial of human rights activist Leyla Yunus is scheduled to begin today. She is accused of "insulting" the ministry and causing "moral damage" to the reputation of the police after she questioned the conduct of a kidnapping trial in which a defendant had alleged police involvement. Human Rights Watch is calling for the government to drop its charges. But the prosecutor charges that she caused “moral damage” to the police by her comments during an interview.

It’s a reminder for journalists who are used to working the West, that our conventional understanding of libel laws aren’t really applicable in most countries. Truth, for example, is not a defense.

Leyla has been chosen to lead a coalition opposition groups called the Civil Movement for Karabakh and a Democratic Republic. The opposition is even growing on-line, with the creation of the Lale Movement, named after a little girl holding a sign in a recent protest. The group now has its own Facebook and Yahoo groups.

All of this is encouraging for those of us who favor more democracy in Azerbaijan, but the opposition is likely to face considerable pressure from a government that appears increasingly less tolerant of dissent. Earlier this week, seven activists were arrested after 20 members Musavat protested a government policy that closed BBC and Radio Liberty and Voice of America broadcasts on Azerbaijani frequencies. Here's another little article with a photo.

(Above is a photo of little Lale - and a photo of one of the many signs advertising the referendum.)


Steve Morozumi said...

it will be interesting to see how we can affect greater freedoms in Azerbaijan through online efforts like yours combining with the fluxlife blog, in addition to online efforts like those taking place on facebook.

the fluxlife team extends a hearty welcome to you, and we look forward to building up our efforts together toward greater freedom for all.

-Steve @ fluxlife

Eric said...

I'm also interested how a new administration in DC will affect democratization efforts around the world. It's can't hurt to have a good example in the White House - an administration that repudiates torture - for example - and makes its actions consistent with its rhetoric.

Ani said...

China for one is certainly nervous--it censored parts of Obama's speech, though it filtered through anyway, via the Internet, of course:

And NYTimes story today confirms that China was more comfortable with the Bush administration:

Eric said...

Yes, why not? The Chinese should love the Bush Administration. The Bush economic policies put USA in hock to the Chinese. Pay for tax cuts & war with borrowed funds. What? Me worry?

Jessica said...

Great post. Found your blog through a friend's today. About to take a walk through town to see if voters are actually going to the polls.

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