Nations in Transit

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan

Nations in Transit 2006

2006 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.93

National Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.00

Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.50

Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.00

Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.00

Local Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.00

Judicial Framework and Independence
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.75

Corruption
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.25
Executive Summary: 

Azerbaijan, which had a brief period of independence between 1918 and 1920, regained its independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 in the midst of a war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh that began as a low-level conflict between 1988 and 1990 and resulted in massive social problems and more than 1 million refugees. The sides signed a cease-fire agreement in 1993 under President Heydar Aliyev, former first secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party who came to power after a coup ousted the country's first democratically elected president, Abulfaz Elchibey. The country achieved a period of relative political and economic stability under Aliyev, who continued to strengthen his hold on the country through an enormous concentration of power in the presidency. During his 10-year term in office, Aliyev pursued a balanced foreign policy aimed at maintaining close ties with the United States, Russia, Iran, and Turkey and struck oil and gas deals with Western energy companies. A peace agreement with Armenia is yet to be signed.

Current president Ilham Aliyev, Heydar's son, came to power through a carefully orchestrated succession strategy, winning the controversial presidential elections in October 2003 after his father withdrew for health reasons two months before the polls. The president has so far maintained political and economic stability in the country, while failing to push forward a genuine democratization program (hopes for which were weakened even further by the serious irregularities observed in the November 2005 polls) or a credible anticorruption drive. The country's economic prospects remain positive, while chances for a Nagorno-Karabakh agreement remain low.

National Democratic Governance. President Aliyev continued to enjoy overwhelming authority in Azerbaijan's governmental system in 2005 and was able to maintain political and economic stability thanks to a high level of continued economic growth. The series of dismissals following an alleged coup attempt to bring opposition Azerbaijan Democratic Party leader Rasul Guliyev to power and the tragic murder of a high-profile opposition journalist raised questions about the cohesiveness of the ruling administration. The National Assembly, Azerbaijan's legislative branch, maintained a low profile in 2005, effectively serving as a rubber-stamp authority for the president. The administration also continued to exert substantial pressure on its political opposition. Azerbaijan's rating for national democratic governance remains at 6.00, which reflects the government's continued reliance on an authoritarian regime and use of force rather than democratic institutions and the rule of law.

Electoral Process. The November 6 parliamentary elections, in which Aliyev's New Azerbaijan Party won the highest number of seats, once again failed to meet international standards. A number of changes to election legislation and improved campaigning rights for the opposition have heightened hopes for a free and fair election, although serious irregularities persisted on the day of the election. International and local observers deemed the election fraudulent and below international standards. Although there were a number of improvements to increase the transparency of the election, such as the eleventh-hour acceptance of ink-marking the fingers of voters, these were approved by the regime late enough in the process that at least some changes did not make a difference. Continued intimidation of political opposition and irregularities in vote tabulation favored ruling party candidates. Azerbaijan's rating for electoral process declines from 6.25 to 6.50 as improvements in the campaigning period were offset by significant election irregularities and continued postelection pressure on the opposition despite the president's June decision to allow rallies.

Civil Society. Little progress was made in 2005 in Azerbaijan's civil society sector, with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) still facing registration, tax, and funding problems. The government imposed increased pressure on NGOs that are affiliated with the opposition, particularly the Yeni Fikir (New Thinking) youth organization. The National Assembly's decision to allow foreign-funded NGOs to monitor polling stations on the day of the election was positive but came too late in the process to make a difference. Azerbaijan's rating for civil society declines from 4.75 to 5.00 as the government continued to refuse registration to some NGOs, imposed substantial pressure on Yeni Fikir, and announced its decision to allow foreign-funded NGOs to monitor the election too late for its implementation to make an impact.

Independent Media. The media continued to operate under governmental and legal pressure, with most opposition outlets facing substantial financial hardship in the face of unreasonably high libel penalties and limited resources. Print media remained divided into either pro-government or pro-opposition camps, while the code of conduct signed by government and media representatives in May 2005 failed to resolve problems with the government and to improve professional and ethical standards among journalists. An important development was the formation of a new public broadcaster, albeit with higher governmental authority over it than advised by international observers. Azerbaijan's rating for independent media remains at 6.00 owing to the government's continued mistreatment of opposition journalists and press and strong government influence on the public broadcaster.

Local Democratic Governance. Local governance in Azerbaijan is not democratic, as the government continues its practice of directly appointing local administrators. The influence of municipal councils, which are formed through elections, remains limited. Azerbaijan's rating for local democratic governance remains at 6.00, reflecting the ruling party's continued dominance in local governance and local executives' unwillingness to liberalize the political environment.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The government maintained substantial authority over the judiciary in 2005, particularly with the seemingly engineered trials of Ruslan Bashirli and other members of the Yeni Fikir and Maqam! (Enough!) youth organizations as well as former government ministers Farhad Aliyev and Ali Insanov for planning to overthrow the constitutional order. Although the former ministers had some access to due process, albeit with delays, the youth activists suffered even further constraints and were reported to have faced torture. Despite the president's June decision to allow opposition rallies, the right to assemble publicly continued to be considered a privilege by the authorities, as local executive committees saw fit to hinder, prohibit, or break up opposition rallies. Azerbaijan's rating for judicial framework and independence remains at 5.75 owing to the judiciary's continued lack of independence and the increase in politically engineered trials in violation of political rights and civil liberties.

Corruption. Corruption remained one of the most problematic issues in 2005, creating a major impediment to economic development. There remains a culture of intolerance toward any discussion of government corruption. The auditing capacity of the legislative branch is weak, and government investigations of civil servants are usually politically driven. Legal and other forms of harassment are commonplace for persons who publicly allege corruption on the part of government officials. Azerbaijan's rating for corruption remains unchanged at 6.25, as the government still does far too little to combat corruption despite new corruption legislation and continued government influence on the newly established anticorruption commission.

Outlook for 2006. President Ilham Aliyev is expected to maintain his position thanks to the impressive level of economic growth based on substantial oil revenues, which will increase further as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline starts exports in the second quarter of 2006. The president, however, more than two years into his term, will encounter increased domestic and international pressure to promote younger and more reform-oriented faces to his cabinet and demonstrate genuine efforts against corruption. The opposition parties will remain weak until the 2008 presidential elections loom closer, but individual opposition National Assembly members may strengthen their profiles. There appears limited chance of progress toward resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2006, although the possibility of a military standoff between Azerbaijan and Armenia is also remote.

National Democratic Governance: 

Azerbaijan has a highly centralized presidential system, with an executive branch made up of the president, the Office of the President, the prime minister, and the cabinet of ministers. The president enjoys overwhelming authority over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. President Ilham Aliyev remained strong in 2005, but a series of cabinet dismissals alongside coup speculations in October and scandals in the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that his regime continues to rely upon undemocratic means lacking transparency and the rule of law.

President Aliyev continued to consolidate his position through 2005. He convened on March 26 the third congress of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), where he was elected as party chairman. His election violates the 1992 Law on Political Parties, which stipulates that the president cannot lead a political party, although the YAP later announced that the law will be amended to enable the president to maintain his position.  An International Republican Institute survey found in June 2005 that 56 percent of the 1,200 participants were satisfied with the status quo, in contrast with the 31 percent that were dissatisfied. Full government coffers due to high economic growth above 20 percent and high oil prices enabled the Aliyev government to push forward a series of generous social spending measures while also boosting public employment. A December 2004 survey announced on March 1, 2005, by local polling organization PULS-R found that 64 percent of respondents trusted the president (remaining at the same level with the group's 2003 and 2004 surveys), whereas the share of respondents who considered that their families live in acute financial hardship declined to 14.4 percent from 19.2 percent in 2003.  Rasim Musabekov, who conducted the poll with a representative of Germany's Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, noted when announcing the poll that Azerbaijanis are not used to responding to such polls and that the findings could therefore not be trusted wholly as an accurate reflection of popular perceptions.  A poll by InterMedia found a 60 percent approval rating for the president. 

Despite continued cabinet reshuffle speculations throughout the year, there were no ministerial changes until October, when President Aliyev dismissed two cabinet ministers alongside several officials within a week following self-exiled Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP) chairman Rasul Guliyev's failed October 17 return to Baku. The president removed Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev (no relation to the president) and Health Minister Ali Insanov. Both men were subsequently arrested for charges of embezzlement of state funds and financing Guliyev's supporters, leading to a coup upon his return. Akif Muradverdiyev, a presidential administration official responsible for financial issues; Fikrat Sadikov, a parliamentarian and director of the state-owned Azerkimya petrochemical company; and Eldar Salayev, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, were also arrested on charges of financing the alleged plot.

The ongoing conflicts between the detained ministers and other powerful figures in the administration, the questionable evidence used for the detentions--an alleged confession by former finance minister Fikret Yusifov--and the manner in which the authorities proceeded with the dismissals (with widely televised police raids into the former ministers' residences) raised questions on whether the dismissals were politically motivated. The fact that the authorities charged neither Guliyev nor any of his close associates in the opposition-and there appears to be no indication that they will be in the future-contributed to the speculations.

Tensions between Farhad Aliyev and former State Customs Committee (DGK) chairman Kemaleddin Heydarov (appointed as minister of emergency situations in January 2006) had been high. An Economic Development Ministry investigation blamed consumer price increases on import monopolies and called for close monitoring of DGK-imposed tariffs on imported goods, urging former minister Aliyev to announce in August that his life could be in danger for his actions threatening powerful monopolies.  In a move that reduced Aliyev's powers, the president transferred the responsibility of overseeing privatization from his ministry to a reestablished State Property Committee in September. The pro-government press had accused Aliyev for harboring political ambitions.  His brother, Rafig Aliyev, who was also arrested on October 19 (and remained in custody until the end of the year), was a top business leader as president of the petrol giant Azpetrol, Azerbaijan's first private oil company. There were also reported tensions between Ramiz Mekhtiyev, head of the Office of the President, and Ali Insanov, who was widely alleged to have used state health services for personal gain. 

The president serves as commander in chief of the Azerbaijani armed forces. In this capacity, he oversees defense and security efforts undertaken by the prime minister and the ministers of defense, internal affairs, and security. The Defense Council, created in 1993 by former president Heydar Aliyev, reports to and advises the president in supervising the activities of the armed forces. A series of events regarding the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 2005 has also triggered controversy about the extent to which President Aliyev is able to control this part of his administration. First, opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov was murdered in March 2 in an operation that seemed to be well organized enough to suggest the involvement of state organs, or at the very least people closely connected to the state. Second, it was revealed in March that several high- and middle-level officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were involved in a kidnapping ring. While an investigation of Huseinov's murder has yet to be concluded, the president moved swiftly in the second case by sacking the probed officials. In an address on March 10, Aliyev condemned the series of abductions perpetrated over the past decade and acknowledged that the groups were also involved in several high-profile murders. 

The legislative branch consists of the 125-member National Assembly (Milli Mejlis). Members are elected for five-year terms from single-mandate constituencies-a rule that was established by constitutional referendum in August 2002. The third National Assembly since independence was elected in the November 6 parliamentary elections, which gave the YAP the largest number of seats-58 out of 125. The opposition parties won 13, with the Azadliq (Freedom) bloc getting the highest share (7 seats) and mostly pro-government independents winning 42 seats. All main opposition parties other than former parliamentary Speaker Isa Gambar's Musavat Party have decided to boycott the current National Assembly in order to protest election irregularities and to not participate in the May 13, 2006, reruns in 10 districts. The Nakhichevani Autonomous Republic, an exclave of Azerbaijan bordering Armenia, Iran, and Turkey, has a 45-seat regional legislature, which was also renewed on November 6. The YAP won 37 seats, while nonpartisan candidates won 6 and the Azadliq 2.

The parliamentary sessions are generally open to the media, but there were instances in which journalists from opposition newspapers were denied entry. There is limited public or expert input in the legislative process, as many NGOs and the general public are not invited to committee hearings. It is also difficult for the public or NGOs to obtain copies of draft laws and deputies' voting records, since these are not published in a consistent and timely fashion. The National Assembly has not conducted any investigations of the government so far, although amendments were made in 2002 requiring the prime minister and the cabinet of ministers to present an annual report to the National Assembly.

The National Assembly's Chamber of Commerce has not been effective in auditing governmental functions, and the Ministry of Finance has initiated only a few investigations into the financial dealings of several oil industry enterprises and Azerbaijani embassies abroad; these have revealed some irregularities in financial accounts. The Ministry of Economic Development's investigation into customs practices has indeed disclosed serious discrepancies on tariffs imposed on imports of food products, yet no sanctions have been imposed on the DGK. Overall, the public and media have little direct access to the financial operations of the government.

Electoral Process: 

Elections in Azerbaijan have been characterized by significant irregularities and government interference in the voting process since independence, except for the June 1992 election in which Abulfaz Elchibey, leader of the nationalist opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan (AXCP), was elected president. The 1993 presidential elections (in which then president Heydar Aliyev, who had replaced Elchibey following a coup the same year, won 99 percent of the vote), 1995 parliamentary elections,  1998 presidential elections in which Aliyev received more than 70 percent of the vote), and 2000 parliamentary elections were marred by serious fraud. The October 2003 elections that brought Ilham Aliyev (appointed prime minister after his father's health suddenly declined in August 2003) to power with 77 percent of the vote were also deemed fraudulent by monitors. The first parliamentary elections under his rule were held in November 6, 2005.

On May 11, Aliyev issued a sweeping decree that mandated full media access for all parties, freedom of assembly during the electoral campaign, and the right of independent organizations to conduct exit polls without interference. Most significant, the decree stated that local government and election officials would be held "legally responsible" for any interference with a free and fair electoral process. Aliyev also instructed local officials not to obstruct preelection meetings by opposition parties, affirming that equal conditions must be created for pro-government and opposition political forces. The government also decided in June to authorize opposition rallies in a change from what has been its policy since the presidential elections in October 2003.

The government also revised the unified election code in June, but the changes omitted several recommendations issued by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) relating to the composition of the election commission, venues for election rallies, the right to campaign, complaints and appeals, and intimidation of election staff. The Venice Commission had recommended that the Central Election Commission (MSK) and local election commissions be restructured so that the opposition representatives have parity with government appointees. The YAP instead maintained the current system, where the government and opposition each appoint six commissioners, but the appointment of the remaining six commissioners by the National Assembly tips the balance in the government's favor.

Aliyev issued a second decree on October 25, which ordered the MSK to make immediate arrangements for the marking of voters' fingers with indelible ink to preclude multiple voting and recommended that the National Assembly consider abolishing the restrictions on allowing local NGOs to monitor the ballot.  Although positive, the measure came too late in the process to make a significant difference. The Office of the Prosecutor General reported on October 31 that it investigated 35 alleged electoral law violations, among which it confirmed 4 instances of violence against the opposition and 2 cases in which candidates attempted to buy votes.

The registration process went smoothly in comparison with previous elections. The MSK registered more than 2,000 candidates representing some 48 parties and blocs, with no significant violations reported by OSCE/ODIHR preliminary reports. The authorities registered two opposition leaders in self-imposed exiles, Rasul Guliyev and former president Ayaz Mutallibov, but on August 27 the Office of the Prosecutor General stripped Guliyev of his immunity from prosecution as a parliamentary candidate. Azerbaijan's three major opposition parties, Musavat, AXCP, and ADP, established a common election platform named Azadliq and entered the November elections with a single list of candidates. Yeni Siyaset (YeS; New Politics), a less confrontational bloc, united the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP), the Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and a few individual politicians. By the day of the election, over 500 candidates had withdrawn.

The government's attitude toward the political opposition was extremely hostile throughout the year, with the election campaign marred by widespread arrests and intimidation of opposition party members and supporters. The YAP and opposition parties met officially in May, but the talks reached a deadlock when the government refused the opposition's demand that the president or Mekhtiyev participate in the talks directly. AXCP member Mansum Bayramov was assaulted and beaten in Baku late on February 24 by men who followed and then halted his car.  The authorities also continued to break up regional election campaign meetings such as those in Zakatala and Lenkoran in August and use force to disperse unauthorized opposition rallies. AXCP's current chairman Ali Kerimli's adviser Ramiz Tagiev said on August 22 that the Ministry of National Security sought in July to co-opt him in a bid to replace Kerimli with a figure who would cooperate with the authorities.  Unidentified individuals systematically combed two Baku shopping centers on August 10 and confiscated all items of orange-colored clothing and accessories in a move to intimidate opposition parties that had made references to the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

October witnessed a dramatic standoff between the government and the opposition when ADP chairman Rasul Guliyev--who has been in self-imposed exile since 1996 owing to criminal charges of large-scale embezzlement dating from 1990 to 1995, when he was director of Azerbaijan's largest oil refinery-announced that he would return to Baku. The authorities had insisted that they would arrest Guliyev on his stated date of return of October 17, when Baku reached a state of frenzy over an alleged coup. Internal Affairs Minister Ramil Usubov called on citizens, foreign diplomats, and journalists to stay away from the airport, stating that Guliyev's supporters planned to arouse public unrest. The road to Baku's airport was blocked while the riot police detained hundreds of opposition supporters deemed to be potential protesters. Guliyev's plane, which was refused landing permission, flew back to Ukraine, where he was detained briefly before leaving for London.

The OSCE Election Observation Mission in Baku on October 4 expressed concern over disproportionate restrictions on freedom of assembly, intervention by local government officials in support of the YAP, attempts to pressure or bribe voters, lack of objectivity on the part of local election commissions in addressing complaints by opposition or independent candidates, the inaccuracy and incompleteness of some voter lists, and the haphazard distribution of voter identification cards. Similarly, U.S. NGO Human Rights Watch concluded on October 31 that the authorities had "extinguished" the possibility that the ballot would be free and fair.  The report detailed arrests of and reprisals against opposition candidates and activists during the election campaign and the authorities' overt support for candidates from the ruling YAP. United States ambassador Reno Harnish also expressed concern regarding continued reports that local government officials are intervening openly in the election process.

The preliminary results announced by the MSK indicated that the YAP won 63 of the 125 mandates, while independent candidates garnered 41 seats, with Azadliq winning 6 seats in total. Only 47 percent of the electorate turned out, in contrast with 69 percent in the previous legislative elections in 2000, suggesting serious public apathy with a system that has repeatedly produced fraudulent elections. Exit polls funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and conducted in 65 constituencies by the U.S. firm PA Consulting showed the YAP to be the victor in 18 and members of Azadliq in 12, with independents winning the rest. A second exit poll conducted jointly by Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research gave the YAP 56 seats countrywide compared with 13 for Azadliq.

The OSCE announced on November 7 that the elections failed to meet international standards, while U.S. and EU representatives also expressed disappointment in the process. The OSCE noted that "continued restrictions on the freedom of assembly during the election campaign" and "interference from executive authorities and media bias favoring incumbents resulted in a failure to provide equitable conditions for all candidates during the campaign period." U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said on November 7 that the vote was accompanied by "major irregularities and fraud that are of immediate concern" and that the United States would urge investigations into those irregularities.

In the week after the November 6 elections, the opposition united under a new banner, the Democratic Popular Front-including Azadliq, YeS, AMIP, and the Liberal Party-and announced a boycott of the National Assembly, stating that it did not recognize the assembly's legitimacy. It claimed that Azadliq had been robbed of some 38 to 40 seats and the opposition as a whole of some 50. The Democratic Popular Front organized rallies to protest election results on November 9, 13, 19, and 26 and vowed not to participate in the runoffs unless they were held in 100 districts and the composition of election commissions was amended.  The AXCP office in the Nakhichevani Autonomous Republic had also announced even before the ballot that it would not recognize the outcome as fair and valid, stating that the republic's election commission was formed exclusively from YAP members and that opposition parties were not allowed to stage preelection rallies.

In a move to reduce domestic and international criticism, the MSK immediately annulled results in four districts and ordered two recounts, enabling Kerimli and Musavat deputy chair Arzu Samedov to win seats initially (police had expelled observers from the polling station in a Baku constituency where votes cast for Kerimli were being counted and tallied after the initial count showed him in the lead).  Aliyev dismissed on November 9 the regional administrators of the Surakhan and Sabirabad districts, Natik Mekhtiyev and Ashraf Mamedov, for failing to prevent election irregularities in their respective districts.

The Constitutional Court announced the final results of the election on December 1, confirming the outcome of the November 6 elections in 115 of the 125 constituencies while annulling the results in 6 additional constituencies, including 2 in which preliminary returns gave victory to prominent opposition candidates Kerimli and Gulamhuseyn Alibeyli of the AXCP. The YAP retained 58 deputies, while the opposition gained 13, with Azadliq winning 8. The revotes are scheduled for May 13, 2006. The opposition demonstrations following the election were generally peaceful, but the police resorted to violence-injuring dozens of people-to end a protest in Gelebe Square in Baku on November 26, the last opposition demonstration before the Constitutional Court announced final results. Since then, municipal authorities have withheld permission for opposition rallies on Gelebe Square.

Civil Society: 

Both Article 58 of the Azerbaijani Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights that came into force in Azerbaijan in 2002 recognize and protect freedom of association. Yet the state appears to be more hostile toward youth organizations that are funded by foreign organizations or affiliated with the opposition. The Aliyev administration continues to exert a dominating influence over grassroots activity, and the National Assembly has shown little willingness to engage NGOs in the legislative process or invite their input on draft legislation.

There are approximately 2100 NGOs in Azerbaijan. The strongest and most active (approximately 50-60) are concerned with Nagorno-Karabakh refugees, health and children's issues, human rights and women's rights, and environmental and ecology issues. Azerbaijani authorities impose difficult registration procedures upon NGOs, and applications are often rejected. Local financial support to NGOs is limited, as the tax code does not allow tax-deductible contributions. The code does provide tax exemption to charitable organizations, unless they engage in entrepreneurial activities. Therefore, most NGOs rely primarily on foreign grants to continue their activities. In a positive move, the National Assembly amended the Law on Elections on October 28 to lift the prohibition on election monitoring by NGOs that receive more than one-third of their funding from abroad, but this was offset by the fact that it occurred too late in the election process to make a difference.  The Law on NGOs prohibits civil society organizations from providing political parties with financial and other kinds of assistance, although they can carry out advocacy activities to improve law and regulation. International NGOs are typically blamed for providing financial assistance to the opposition.

Government pressure on youth groups that are affiliated with the opposition parties and receiving foreign assistance increased in 2005. Ruslan Bashirli, leader of the Yeni Fikir youth group, was arrested on August 9 after he allegedly conspired with and received money from Armenian secret service agents to overthrow the constitutional order in Azerbaijan. Bashirli was arrested after Azerbaijan's security agencies released footage of a secretly videotaped meeting in which he stated he was acting on the instructions of the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute and was seen receiving US$2,000 from two alleged Armenian agents. Osman Alimuradov, a former bodyguard for the Caucasus Muslim Board chairman Allahshukur Pashazade who was present at the videotaped meeting, relinquished the tape to the Office of the Prosecutor General, which has based the investigation on his testimony.

Although it is difficult to confirm whether Bashirli was detained in a carefully orchestrated operation by intelligence services, the government's swift leakage of the tape to the state media, which ran it frequently, indicated that the government had no qualms about using the episode to discredit its rivals. Investigators impounded on August 17 two computers from Yeni Fikir's headquarters, whereas the authorities reportedly pressured Yeni Fikir member Sarvan Sarkhanov to incriminate AXCP chairman Ali Kerimli.  Sarkhanov was beaten and threatened with arrest when he refused to comply with that demand but was subsequently released.

Pressure on youth activists sympathizing with the opposition continued through the end of the year. Five activists from the Yeni Fikir and Maqam! youth movements had been arrested by the end of the year, and two of their number were expelled from Baku State University and the Azerbaijan State Pedagogical Institute, respectively. While the authorities contended that the students were expelled for poor academic performance that had nothing to do with their personal political activities, the students claimed to have been expelled for attending opposition demonstrations. The activists started a hunger strike on December 28 to protest the expulsions, and the situation had not been resolved by the end of the year.

The government founded the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations (SCWRA) in 2001 to reregister religious groups, giving SCWRA chairman Rafig Aliyev (not to be confused with former Azpetrol chairman Rafig Aliyev) sweeping powers over these groups, including control over religious literature. Muslim religious groups must receive a letter of approval from the state-dominated Caucasus Muslim Board (DUMK), a body that appoints Muslim clerics to mosques and monitors sermons before they can be registered. The DUMK also has a monopoly over the selection of pilgrims and the organization of the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. There are 1,300 officially certified mosques in Azerbaijan, although no more than 500 offer regular religious services.

A public opinion poll by the ADAM Social Research Center conducted in September-October 2004 and announced in February found that 93.2 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Muslims, while those who worshipped regularly constituted less than 20 percent, and only 13.5 percent recognized the authority of any Islamic religious authority. But 23.2 percent of respondents said they supported the introduction of Islamic laws in Azerbaijan--given the low rates of worship and deference to Islamic religious authorities, this likely means laws reflecting higher morality and religious freedom rather than those based on a rigid interpretation of Islam--whereas nearly 70 percent said that they were ill disposed to people who practiced another religion.

Azerbaijan's educational system includes approximately 4,600 primary and secondary schools, 180 technical high schools, 90 colleges, and 27 institutions of higher education (including 8 universities and 5 academies). Education is compulsory for at least eight years according to the Constitution and is guaranteed by the state. The Ministry of Education is the central body that develops state education policy and manages the educational system. Since independence, the Azerbaijani educational system has not undergone major structural changes. Those changes that have occurred include the reestablishment of religious education, banned during the Soviet Union's hegemony. Changes to the curriculum emphasize the use of the Azerbaijani language and eliminate Marxist-Leninist content.

Although appointments to government-controlled academic positions depend heavily on political connections, several senior professors are also active in opposition parties, and academic freedom is generally respected. In October, the authorities arrested Eldar Salayev, the 72-year-old head of the National Academy of Sciences and an Azadliq candidate for the Parliament, for alleged involvement in a coup attempt by Rasul Guliyev, to whom he is related through marriage. He was released from pretrial custody on November 17, but the charges against him have yet to be dropped.

Independent Media: 

The National Assembly adopted Azerbaijan's Law on Mass Media in 2000. It guarantees freedom of speech, support for media, access to information, and protection of journalists' rights. In practice, though, Azerbaijan's media sector encounters numerous obstacles to conducting its work and maintaining independence.

In order to meet Azerbaijan's Council of Europe membership commitments, the administration established a public service broadcast, transforming the second state television channel (AzTV2) while retaining the first channel under state control. The new public television channel (ITV), which began broadcasting 12 hours a day on August 29, is meant to provide objective and unbiased coverage, although the nine members on its board  are considered too close to the leadership, with only one having media expertise.  Opposition journalists and NGOs criticized General Director Ismail Omarov, a former senior administrator of AzTV1, as a strongly pro-government parliamentarian. Meanwhile, President Aliyev signed a decree on March 23 that transforms AzTV, the state-run radio and television company, into a joint-stock company that will initially be 100 percent state owned, with a 49 percent stake to be sold at a later date--the Council of Europe had demanded the abolishment of the state radio and television after the opening of the new public broadcaster. The ITV's coverage of the election campaign was indistinguishable from other pro-government channels; an OSCE monitoring report suggested that the ITV devoted 68 percent of prime-time news coverage to Aliyev, the government, and the ruling party, while Azadliq received 23 percent of the airtime, of which 53 percent was assessed as negative and 1 percent positive.

The Law on Elections entitles the four parties and blocs that have nominated at least 60 candidates in the parliamentary elections to 90 minutes of free airtime each on state television. The Azadliq bloc complained to AzTV over the channel's refusal to permit a live campaign broadcast by the bloc on October 17. Two leading Azadliq members, including Musavat chairman Isa Gambar, were denied access to television studios, and four minutes were cut from a prerecorded Azadliq campaign broadcast. The OSCE Election Observation Mission noted in October that the free airtime on television was being distributed in accordance with legal requirements, including the staging of debates among candidates, but the remaining coverage of political events by both AzTV and the newly launched public television channel devoted disproportionate coverage to the president, the government, and the YAP. The mission added that the coverage of the government is almost always positive or neutral in tone compared with generally negative coverage of the main Azadliq opposition election bloc.

Antigovernment journalist Elmar Huseinov was shot dead in front of his residence on March 2. Huseinov was founder and editor of Monitor magazine, which had been very outspoken in attacking the government, most of all on the issue of corruption. The murder appeared to be well enough organized to suggest that it could not have been committed without the active cooperation of state organs, or at the very least people closely connected to the state. Huseinov's BakCell mobile phone had been blocked for no reason earlier in the day, and just before the shooting, the electricity supply to his building was cut off. Although it is unlikely that President Aliyev himself had any role in or knowledge of Huseinov's assassination, it was certain to have been precipitated by some forces within the current administration. Akper Hasanov, another journalist for Monitor, was reportedly taken against his will to Defense Ministry headquarters, where he was held for five hours and forced to write a rebuttal of a January 29 article in which he highlighted the appalling conditions in a military unit in the Geranboy region.

While Aliyev denounced the murder on March 3 as an attempt to tarnish Azerbaijan's international image and called for the police to find those responsible,  Musavat, AXCP, and other opposition parties termed it a political killing and asked for mass demonstrations.  The Office of the Prosecutor General and Ministries of Internal Affairs and National Security rebuffed the call with a joint statement on March 3 against attempts to use the murder for political purposes. Police blocked access on March 9 to Huseinov's grave to prevent his relatives and friends from congregating to celebrate the traditional repast seven days after his death, while on March 8 Baku city officials refused permission for a mass meeting of journalists scheduled for that day to protest Huseinov's killing. The perpetrators have yet to be apprehended, contributing to the perception of a climate of impunity for violence against journalists.

Television is the dominant media source, with many Azerbaijanis reportedly using various TV channels much more than radio or newspapers, according to data from the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) 2004 survey Public Opinion in Azerbaijan. In addition to the two state-funded channels, there are five major national stations and nine regional stations. The major national channels are Lider TV (84 percent of viewers surveyed), AzTV1 (79 percent), Space (77 percent), ANS (75 percent), and ATV (25 percent).

On July 12, the Council of Europe, the Office of the President, and the Independent Press Council jointly signed a code of conduct to promote impartiality and balanced reporting of the parliamentary elections. Zeynal Mamedli, head of the monitoring group, published a report on November 18 covering an 11-week period up to the elections. The report found that most mainstream media gave little space to the opinions of citizens and national and religious minorities, while opinions of officials, party leaders, and the candidates dominated. Television channels except for ANS did not issue any airtime to discuss important questions regarding voter participation, while Lider TV was the biggest violator, with 29.2 percent of the violations. Space registered 27.9 percent of the violations, AzTV1 17.7 percent, ITV 10.9 percent, and ATV 10.6 percent. The private stations Space, Lider TV, and ATV are reportedly controlled either by family members of President Aliyev or by people close to the Aliyev family. ANS is owned independently and has given increased coverage to the opposition in its programming in 2005. The most popular radio stations are Lider (20 percent), ANS (19 percent), and Space (15 percent).

Since the formal abolition of censorship in 1998, the print media in Azerbaijan have remained freer than television and radio outlets, although they too are generally biased in their coverage. The overall quality of journalism and reporting remains unprofessional in Azerbaijan. Most newspapers cover scandal-oriented political news as opposed to social or economic developments. Of the 200 newspapers published in Azerbaijan, the most popular are Yeni Musavat (7 percent of readers surveyed), Zerkalo (7 percent), Azerbaycan (5 percent), Xalg Gazeti (5 percent), Azadlig (4 percent), Ekho (4 percent), and Azerbaijan Maullimi (4 percent). The Russian dailies Ekho and Zerkalo are generally considered to be neutral and bipartisan, but less so now because of rising government pressure since the 2003 election. Other popular newspapers such as Yeni Musavat and Azadlig serve as the political mouthpieces of certain opposition parties and are increasingly inclined toward unprofessional reporting. The pro-government, state-funded newspapers Xalg Gazeti and Azerbaycan cover only the ruling party's position on issues. The greatest violators of the code of conduct among the newspapers in the July-November period were Rating, Ses, Yeni Musavat, Olaylar, Iki Sahil, Parity, Azadlig, 525ci qazet, Caspian (different from the Russian-language newspaper Caspian), and Adalet. The newspapers that adhered best to the code of conduct were Zerkalo (15.9 percent), Ayna (15.1 percent), New Time (9.7 percent), Express (9.1 percent), and Gun Seher (4.1 percent).

Government pressure on independent journalists continued through 2005. The police beat an unidentified Zerkalo/Ayna journalist during an unauthorized Azadliq rally on May 21. ANS journalist Aytekhin Alkhasli was deported from the Nakhichevani Autonomous Republic, and there was an attempt to run down a regional correspondent for the Azadlig paper. Azadlig editor Ganimat Zahidov and technical director Azer Ahmedov were forcibly abducted on February 24 and taken to a Baku restaurant, where they were stripped naked and photographed with two naked women, then beaten and threatened for printing materials criticizing President Aliyev. The two journalists were released on February 26 after being robbed of nearly US$840 and their cell phones.

Yeni Musavat resumed publication on January 9 after a brief publication suspension due to hefty fines levied after a series of libel suits, six of which imposed nearly US$165,500 on the paper, which was already facing grave financial problems. Although the daily enjoys the largest circulation among opposition newspapers, it is widely held to be an unreliable news source. Meanwhile, a media club named Friends of the Army was founded by reservists in February to deter journalists from negative coverage of defense-related issues.  Friends of the Army announced it would monitor the media on a monthly basis and publicly condemn journalists whose articles show the military in a negative light.

Internet access remains free of governmental control and influence, but a mere 5 percent of the country is actually connected to the Internet, according to the International Telecommunications Union. There are currently 15 to 18 computers per 1,000 people in the country. The number of Internet cafés around the country has increased rapidly, but there were a few instances in which owners were harassed by the authorities.

Local Democratic Governance: 

Local executive committees (excoms) and municipal councils share power at the local governmental level. The president appoints the members and heads of the excoms, as required by the Constitution, whereas seats on municipal councils are filled through municipal elections, which are held every five years. The government set up municipal councils for the first time in 1999, but the municipal elections held that same year and in December 2004 were characterized by the OSCE as falling short of international standards. The MSK announced on January 6 the final results of the December 2004 municipal election, in which the YAP won 64.5 percent of the vote. The results of the ballot were invalidated in 409 precincts owing to violations of election legislation. Voter turnout was 49 percent and in some municipalities as low as 20 percent. Although the Constitution defines municipalities as bodies for local self-government, the municipal councils lack a complete legal framework and proper funding and are subordinate to the excoms.

President Aliyev's May 11 decree, in which he warned local executives of harsh penalties if they interfered in election processes, and his removal of two local executives following the November election appeared to be a positive step. But pre- and postelection monitoring reports suggest that irregularities persisted particularly in regions outside Baku. Addressing a Baku conference on February 11 to mark the first anniversary of the launch of his five-year program to promote the socioeconomic development of Azerbaijan's rural regions, Aliyev called on local administrators to assist local businesspeople rather than create problems for them through repeated needless inspections and warned that local administrators who harass business owners would lose their jobs.  Aliyev said that over the past year, 90,000 new permanent jobs were created in rural areas, and 200 billion manats (US$40.8 million) will be made available in grants for local businessmen in 2005, double the amount allocated in 2004.

The Azerbaijani government continued to have no administrative control over the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and the seven surrounding regions (Kelbajar, Gubatli, Djabrail, Fizuli, Zengilan, Lachin, and Agdam) that are occupied by Armenia. This area constitutes about 17 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan. The NKR rejected an August 12 statement addressed by the MSK to the Nagorno-Karabakh population, informing them of their right to vote in the parliamentary election.  The NKR held elections for the 33-seat legislature on June 19, 2005, in which the ruling Democratic Party of Artsakh won 12 seats, while Free Motherland won 10. 

Continued meetings between Azerbaijan and Armenia appear to have improved prospects for progress toward a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenian officials announced in July that the two countries had reached agreement on the key points of a formal peace accord, while Azerbaijani deputy foreign minister Araz Azimov, President Aliyev's special envoy for Nagorno-Karabakh, stated on July 18 that the sides were closer to a final agreement than ever before. 

The sides seem to have agreed upon a gradual approach, with the probable first step being the withdrawal of Armenian troops from some of the seven Azerbaijani districts surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in return for Azerbaijan's loosening of trade sanctions on Armenia. Although agreement over a possible timeline for troop withdrawal should certainly be considered a breakthrough, the issue of a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh will remain a key obstacle for the foreseeable future. Armenia insists on a referendum in which the predominantly Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh would determine the status of the region. Complicating matters is the fact that a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh would require an amendment to Azerbaijan's Constitution, which currently prohibits the holding of referendums in some parts of Azerbaijani territory and on issues relating to the country's territorial integrity.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

The Azerbaijani Constitution, adopted in 1995, provides a wide range of human rights protections, yet these rights are often violated in practice. Judicial power is implemented through the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Economic Court, and the ordinary and specialized law courts. The judges of the high courts are appointed by the National Assembly on the recommendation of the president and remain heavily dependent on the executive branch. The president appoints and dismisses the prosecutor general of the Azerbaijan Republic. The influence of the government on the judiciary remained substantial in 2005 as youth organizations affiliated with the opposition as well as political rivals were detained through seemingly politically engineered trials.

The Law on the Judicial Legal Council, as well as the law amending and completing the 1997 Law on Courts and Judges, entered into force in January 2005. In a positive move that was offset by the politically motivated trials, the National Assembly made changes to the Law on Advocacy that went into effect in August 2005, simplifying requirements for over 200 formerly licensed lawyers to join the Collegiums of Advocates (the bar) and thereby to practice whether or not they have passed a separate bar exam. Other legislation established a new selection process for judges, assessed as more professional by international observers.

The judiciary remains corrupt, inefficient, and open to executive influence, generally failing to observe constitutional prohibitions on arbitrary arrest and detention. Detainees are presumed innocent until found guilty, but harassment, intimidation, and evidence gathered under physical pressure are not uncommon. Access to lawyers for defendants is generally respected, but there have been cases where detained individuals were not allowed to speak to their lawyers and were held longer than is allowed or required. This was particularly true among the arrests in connection with the alleged coup attempt involving Rasul Guliyev and a number of prominent government ministers and officials, including Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev, his brother and Azpetrol chairman Rafig Aliyev, and Health Minister Ali Insanov. Youth activists affiliated with Maqam! and Yeni Fikir faced even higher constraints, limited access to attorneys, and reportedly torture.

The authorities based the charges of involvement of the former government ministers in an attempt to overthrow the constitutional order primarily on confessions by former finance minister Fikret Yusifov, who was detained on October 16-17 and, under interrogation, is believed to have said that Farhad Aliyev provided funds to the political opposition. The Office of the Prosecutor General and Ministries of Internal Affairs and National Security issued a statement on November 1 that Insanov had confessed to unspecified unconstitutional acts and to providing financing to Guliyev's election campaign, while Farhad Aliyev continued to reject the charges until the end of the year.

Hussein Yusifov, father of former finance minister Fikret Yusifov, who reportedly informed the authorities of the planned coup attempt in which he implicated Insanov, Aliyev, and Guliyev, wrote to President Aliyev to register concern that his son was reportedly kept in solitary confinement and had not yet been permitted to meet with his lawyers.  A number of former ministers also reported health problems stemming from being kept in the National Security Ministry's pretrial investigation prison. Insanov's lawyer, Togrul Babaev, said on December 31 that his client suffered severe back pain and risked losing the use of his legs in the absence of expert medical attention, while Presidential Administration official Akif Muradverdiyev's lawyer said on December 29 that his client suffered from high blood pressure.  Farhad Aliyev was taken on December 22 to a Baku hospital, where he was diagnosed as suffering from low arterial blood pressure.

The reputation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was undermined after it was revealed in March that a number of high-and middle-level officials were involved in a kidnapping ring. The Ministry of National Security launched an operation on March 10 to secure the release of Zamira Hajieva, wife of the president of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, who was abducted a month earlier by a group that demanded US$20 million for her release. She was found in a concrete bunker belonging to a senior police official, who was apprehended together with some 20 other people, 7 of them Internal Affairs Ministry officials. On March 23, Minister Ramil Usubov dismissed his first deputy, Zakhid Dunyamaliev, Criminal Investigations Department head Zakir Nasibov, and two of Nasibov's deputies. The National Security Ministry and the Office of the Prosecutor General released a joint statement the same day on additional crimes allegedly committed in recent years by a criminal gang headed by former Ministry of Internal Affairs official Haji Mamedov.  The U.S. State Department's annual report noted that Azerbaijani police failed to investigate four deaths in police custody and numerous complaints of torture and ill-treatment in detention.
 
In its annual overview of human rights observance worldwide, released on January 13, Human Rights Watch noted that ongoing pressure by the Azerbaijani government on the political opposition reached a new intensity in the wake of the 2003 presidential election, with 46 opposition activists receiving prison terms ranging from two to six years, but also noted as a positive step that 32 political prisoners have been released. The government initially resisted Council of Europe, OSCE, and other Western calls for a fresh amnesty for the 40 political prisoners associated with the postpresidential election events, but later it opened the way for the Supreme Court to consider appeals by 7 high-profile defendants, including ADP deputy chairman Sardar Jalaloglu and Yeni Musavat editor and Musavat deputy chairman Rauf Arifoglu. Some of those 40 had petitioned for pardon, but the 7 defendants had not done so, arguing that they were innocent of the charges against them. The OSCE released a February 2005 report detailing procedural violations during the trials of some of the 40 political prisoners since the 2003 election and affirmed that in some cases the charges against them were unfounded.

President Aliyev finally issued a decree on March 20, 2005, pardoning 115 prisoners, including 53 who are considered by the Council of Europe to be political prisoners, among them the 7 high-profile oppositionists. Similarly pardoned was former defense minister Rahim Gaziyev, regarded by the Council of Europe as a political prisoner. The government and local human rights NGOs set up a task force on June 11 to settle the remaining political prisoner cases, some 45 of whom were estimated to remain in detention in October 2005, including 4 with serious health problems.

Apparently as a result of pressure from the Czech government, Saday Nazarov, a close associate of former prime minister Suret Huseinov, has been released from detention but forbidden to leave Azerbaijan. Nazarov, who left Azerbaijan 10 years ago and was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic, was detained in January 2005 shortly after he arrived in Azerbaijan to visit his elderly father. Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda wrote to Azerbaijan's deputy foreign minister Araz Azimov to request his immediate release from detention. Huseinov was sentenced in 1999 to life imprisonment but pardoned in 2004 by President Aliyev.

Azerbaijan's prison conditions remained harsh in 2005. Even after a number of renovations and the construction of five new prisons in 2004, the majority of prisoners depend on their families for basic needs, such as food and medicine, with tuberculosis the primary cause of death in prisons. Some pretrial detainees are kept in solitary confinement, where interrogators reportedly deprive them of food and sleep to secure confessions without physical evidence of abuse. Elchin Gambarov, an attorney representing Yeni Fikir leader Ruslan Bashirli, said on August 17, 2005, that Bashirli was systematically beaten after being taken into custody on August 3, 2005.  Gambarov said interrogators tried without success to coerce Bashirli into giving testimony incriminating AXCP chairman Ali Kerimli.

The situation inside prisons had reached a critical point in February 2005, when Internal Affairs Ministry troops violently repressed several riots. Some 100 of the total 842 inmates at high-security prison no. 11 near Baku escaped from their cells and congregated on the roof of the three-story building on February 15 to demand the resignation of prison governor Oktai Gasymov, whom they accused of brutality. Having initially ruled out the use of force against the protesters, the Azerbaijani authorities deployed some 100 Ministry of Internal Affairs troops and riot police to the prison. Journalists reported gunfire and explosions on February 16, after which fire hoses were trained on the protesters, who finally capitulated several hours later. The Office of the Prosecutor General has opened a criminal case in connection with the protest, which triggered similar demands at prisons no. 12 and no. 13. An unknown number of prisoners who took part in the February 15 protest at no. 11 were transferred to other prisons. President Aliyev issued a decree on March 3 expressing "horror" over the conditions in Azerbaijan's prisons and firing three prison directors, including Gasymov.  Alqayit Maharramov, a 20-year-old demonstrator jailed for his participation in the post-election protests in October 2003 was found dead in his cell on February 17. His official cause of death was reported as "suffocation."

Aydin Gasymov, deputy minister of justice in charge of the penitentiary system, was dismissed alongside two lower-level Justice Ministry officials in February in connection with widespread abuses and corruption within the prison system. Among the abuses being investigated are the misappropriation of funds, including money allocated to purchase food for prisoners; forgery of official documents to release prisoners before they have served their full terms; and authorization to prisoners of privileges to which they were not entitled. A joint statement by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Office of the Prosecutor General alleged that criminal gang leader Nadir Salifov, who was sentenced in 1996 for unspecified serious crimes, committed further criminal offenses between 2001 and 2004 while serving his sentence in the Gobustan jail.  Specifically, Salifov allegedly managed with the help of the prison administration to procure eight women, who alleged after visiting him in jail that they had been raped. Salifov also allegedly used four cell phones to extort money from wealthy businessmen.

After a closed trial, Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes passed sentence on February 8, 2005, on six men convicted of preparing a terrorist act. Amiraslan Iskenderov and Alirza Babaev were sentenced to 14 years in prison, Abdullah Magamedov and Zaur Aliyev to 7½ years, Khidayat Piriev to 5 years, and Rizvan Abdurezegov to 3 years. They had reportedly photographed buildings in Baku. The six men, all of whom pleaded not guilty, were also suspected of links with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, but it is unclear whether any hard evidence was produced at the trial to substantiate those suspicions.

Corruption: 

Corruption remains one of the most problematic issues in Azerbaijan. Bribery and nepotism have intervened at all levels of society-from the education system to the workplace to the government-and continue to hinder the development of the country and the eradication of poverty. A legacy of former president Heydar Aliyev's regime, corrupt patronage networks drive both politics and the economy, while the growing oil wealth appears to reinforce the position of deeply entrenched, corrupt elites, hindering hopes that Azerbaijan might change into a transparent society from its current state as an opaque economy.

Most people prefer to pay small bribes instead of the much higher fees imposed by the state. Thirty-three percent of Azerbaijanis report that they have paid bribes in the past; 20 percent say that they have been asked for bribes but have not paid; and 33 percent say that they have not been asked for bribes in the past. Among Azerbaijanis who have paid bribes, the most common occasions are for medical care (12 percent) and higher grades for their school-age children (6 percent), states the IFES 2004 survey Public Opinion in Azerbaijan. A different survey, undertaken in March by PULS-R, found that 16.2 percent of the respondents identify corruption and incompetence within the government bureaucracy as the biggest problem facing Azerbaijan, after the unresolved Karabakh conflict identified by 61.9 percent of the respondents.

The criminal code does not define penalties for most corrupt activities other than bribery, although it forbids a government official from receiving gifts valued at more than US$55, holding other jobs (other than in teaching or the arts), and "being engaged in business activity directly, indirectly or through proxies." A soft measure against low-level corruption was the increase of monthly salaries in September 2005 for regular traffic police to US$350 and for officers to between US$500 and US$700. 

A new Law on Combating Corruption, which defines corruption and outlines official responsibilities, and the State Program on Fighting Corruption came into force in January 2005. The statute for an anticorruption commission set up in April 2004 was approved on May 3, 2005. It is led by Ramiz Mekhtiyev and is composed equally of presidential, parliamentary, and Constitutional Court appointees but lacks the participation of civil society and media representatives. The commission created an ad hoc Anticorruption Legislative Working Group, which has met four times in 18 months without direct effect on any cases.  The Legislative Working Group is staffed with 13 government officials, 3 NGO representatives, and 2 foreign experts from the American Bar Association's Central and East European Law Initiative and the OSCE. The NGO and international organization representatives do not have voting rights.

The National Assembly's Audit Chamber remains weak and inefficient, and NGOs and media lack access to information about its activities or statistics regarding government revenues and expenditures. So far, the state has failed to enforce an effective legislative or administrative process to investigate the corruption of government officials and civil servants, a process that would at the same time be free of prejudice against political opponents. The law bans anonymous complaints of corrupt activities while there is no effective legal protection for witnesses.

A U.S. State Department report noted that corruption remains a significant deterrent to foreign investment, especially in the nonenergy sector, and identified the State Customs Committee and Ministry of Taxation as the institutions of greatest concern to foreign business.  Azerbaijan's rating in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2005 stands at 2.2 (a slight improvement from 1.9 in 2004) and 137th among 159 countries (that is, near the end of the scale that signifies the highest level of corruption perception).