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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

1.5 million dollars of US taxpayers' money granted to Azerbaijani GONGO

Ali Huseynov (Photo: Trend.az)

How lambs were assigned to wolves for protection.

Ali Huseynov is a nice guy and a very good legal expert. He is also a member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party and an MP of Azerbaijan’s rubber stamp parliament, Milli Majlis.

Moreover, in his capacity of the Chairman of parliament's Law Committee, Huseynov is also a mastermind behind all recent changes to Azerbaijani legislation curbing all kinds of freedoms, like of assembly, religion, information and media.

Huseynov also authored the notorious legislative changes in 2011 that restricted activities of all foreign and local NGOs in Azerbaijan.

In short, he is the Draco of Azerbaijan.

But Ali Huseynov is also the main guy behind Azerbaijan Confederation of Lawyers – a classic textbook GONGO and the Chairman of its board. And here comes the main concern.

US Agency for International Development (USAID) recently awarded 1.5 million dollars of US taxpayers’ money to Ali Huseynov’s Confederation for... “increasing the effectiveness of civil society and legal professionals to better defend the rights and interests of citizens and to improve the rule of law.”

Eh?

USAID was seeking applications among Azerbaijani NGOs for "a Cooperative Agreement to fund a program entitled Azerbaijan Rights Consortium (ARC) Project" and apparently they found the right partner!

This is what we call assigning a lamb to a wolf for better protection.

11 prominent human rights organizations and NGOs in Azerbaijan have already addressed a protest letter to USAID and media raising their concerns. USAID declined to comment on the issue, except for a small note that the grant was awarded according to all procedures and due process. But they promised to meet with protesters and clarify their questions.

How relieving, isn't it?

Anyway, we don't know what may happen after this. USAID would hardly reverse its decision. But as the prominent Azeri journalist Khadija Ismayil posted in her Facebook profile - dear USAID, just don't claim it is an American support to democracy in Azerbaijan.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Internet censored in the very Azerbaijani parliament, no kidding!

These two tasteless and ugly towers host Milli Majlis,
the Azerbaijani parliament (Photo: Panoramio)
Not a week passed since the Internet Governance Forum in Baku and occasional repeating of “the Internet is free in Azerbaijan” mantra that an Azerbaijani MP dropped a new bomb.

Etibar Huseynov, a pro-government MP and former journalist specializing in smear against opposition, told news agencies that “deputies can’t access social networks and YouTube in the Parliament offices” and “the Internet connection is very slow.”

According to Huseynov, websites of some newspapers were also inaccessible, though he didn’t elaborate what newspapers.

Vice-Speaker immediately refuted the claims and said he would investigate the matter.

This is not the only complaint from the deputies though.

Elmira Akhundova, an overweight pro-government MP, also a former journalist and intellectual, asked for free passes to fitness clubs and reimbursement for medical operations abroad. No kidding.

But Fazil Mustafa, another MP, supposedly pro-government opposition, was more modest – he asked for new computers for deputies.

“The computers have morally aged, they occasionally freeze and we have to restart them frequently,” he told the press.

So, is the Internet really free in the Azerbaijani parliament?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

IGF in Baku: Instant Coffee, no Wi-Fi and Vice-Premier for Emergencies

IGF 2012 logo
This is how Baku greeted the 7th Annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

It was the biggest puzzle for me. So much pomp and PR around organization of IGF; bringing half of world’s Internet elite and numerous high-ranking officials to Baku; and then - the government displaying very careless attitude to the whole event – wasn't it a bit strange?

There have been many articles and posts in the Internet regarding human rights and freedom of expression issues in the host country Azerbaijan, thus I’m going to skip them. As an old Azerbaijani saying tells, a visible village needs no guide. So, let’s look through other issues that got my attention.

"Have you seen the toilets," I was asked in horror by a foreigner even before I entered and got my badge – bad news travels fast.

The first day there was no drinking water available in the forum venue, the last day – food was so scarce that more than half of delegates couldn't get anything. During the whole event only instant coffee was served and Wi-Fi didn't work. No real coffee and Wi-Fi for the world’s top Internet people? Yes, apparently!

Don't get deceived by headphones - no translation was available (Photo: IFLA.org)

I could think of this as maladministration and deficiencies of organization, but what about the President visiting a run-out-of-mill telecommunications exhibition – Bakutel just 100 meters away while Vice-Premier for Emergencies was reading his address in the opening session of the IGF? Was IGF an emergency?

And how they managed to operate a real café, an open buffet and display 4G in Bakutel, but have no decent coffee and Wi-Fi just 100 meters away?

Except the main session hall, neither of conference and workshop rooms was equipped with simultaneous translation – come on, wasn't this a UN event and doesn't UN have six official languages? How was a non-English speaker supposed to participate in side events and workshops?

After all, who decided to hold such an important event au bout du monde - in the Baku Expo Center next to the airport, far from the city center while there were a lot of places available in the city itself? Taxi mafia? Shuttle service providers? Or ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach of the Azerbaijani government?

Indeed, I am puzzled at the Azerbaijani government. It seems as if they are not capable of holding a normal event. Either they raze half of the city and spend a billion to hold a single event – like Eurovision, or they just pick everybody, leave them in the middle of nowhere without water and coffee – like IGF.

Isn't it possible for us to have somehow a normal course of events, dear government?